by Kyle Patton, associate editor
photography by Jorge Gera
Orthodontists spend most of their working hours in their practices, so they don’t get many opportunities to see what it’s like inside another doctor’s office. Orthotown’s recurring Office Visit profile offers a chance for Townies to meet their peers, hear their stories and get a sense of their practice protocols.
In this issue, we meet Dr. Bonciel Griffin-Burress and tour one of her three Chicago-area practices. After finishing her orthodontic education, Griffin-Burress returned to the community where she grew up to help continue what’s now a three-generation tradition of practicing orthodontics in Chicago. This Townie melds her love of old-school ortho with the new trend of combining specialties under one roof to beat the competition and be her own source of referrals.
In this exclusive Q&A, Griffin-Burress shares her advice about taking advantage of growth opportunities, staying relevant without adopting every piece of new tech that comes out, using community outreach for unbeatable marketing, and more.
Name and credentials:
Dr. Bonciel Griffin-Burress
University of Michigan, 2001;
Howard University, 2005
3 Chicago practices:
• Ivory Dental Specialists, Kenwood and Auburn Gresham
• Griffin Orthodontics, Beverly
Practice size, Ivory Dental:
4 chairs; 2,000 square feet
You’re the second of three generations of orthodontists in your family practicing in Chicago. What experiences solidified your decision to go into the profession?
I was introduced to orthodontics when I was a patient of my uncle. I saw how much he enjoyed being at work and interacting with the patients. Moreover, I noticed how much fun he was having while working. I shared my observations with my mother, who in turn told him. The following Saturday, he came to pick me up to start working as his orthodontic assistant.
The first thing I remember about my uncle is him coming home from dental school with braces on, smiling and laughing, calling me “Roseannadanna.” As I got older, he shared the importance of quickly reducing debt and being financially responsible. Of course, he stressed the importance of a doctoral dental education, and the many benefits of focusing on one aspect of dentistry. He also imparted the importance of continuing education and trying new practice techniques.
I felt compelled to go back to my childhood neighborhood because there wasn’t an orthodontic practice in the area. I feel a strong sense of purpose when I meet neighborhood kids in the area and can relate and let them know they can be a doctor—that we come from the same area.
You’re getting ready to open your third Chicago-area office! How did you grow from practicing with your uncle to owning three practices?
As I was moonlighting, I worked for a general dentist with multiple offices. When I was leaving my uncle to branch out to my first practice, I saw another space by my house at a good price and decided that an ortho office with a general dentist was needed.
For the third location, again, there was a need for an orthodontist and general dentist. I purchased the building at a great price and was awarded a city grant for the build-out. My first thought is to always buy the building, so I can’t be evicted by a landlord after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a build-out. Plus, after the note is paid off, that income flows to you and your net worth.
I pick areas where there is little competition and that will serve underserved areas. I would advise new doctors to be adventurous and capitalize on every opportunity that is presented. Also, build out a space where you can work with a general dentist or pediatric dentist to drive referrals. With so many general dentists doing advanced orthodontics, a stand-alone specialty practice takes a huge hit on outside referrals.
How are you going to manage
and handle your schedule when you have three offices open?
We’re in the process of hiring more staff. Between me and the other orthodontist, we will work two of the offices while the two general dentists work at the other offices. Griffin Orthodontics will be open four days a week, and Ivory Dental of Hyde Park, which is where we took these photos, is open five days a week. The new location will start off with three days a week, and we’ll add more days as needed.
Ormco height gauge. Great for proper bracket placement.
Opalescence etch and primer for porcelain crowns. Nothing works better to keep brackets on crowns.
Dane Dental Lab. Retainers
fit 98% of the time.
SpaceFile interproximal reduction kit, Dentsply Sirona Orthodontics. Great for interproximal reduction
Darby tongue spikes/tamers. Great for tongue thrusters in retraining the tongue to stay away from the teeth and enforcing proper tongue posture.
A lot of your continued success
has been in finding and retaining key people.
I treat them like family. I respect them and tell the staff all the time that they work with me, not for me. I let them know that I’m only a phone call away. I also take the time to connect with them on a personal level—inquiring about their families and just them outside of work. As I continue to grow, I always make sure they are growing with me. I offer incentives and perks every year. I am constantly asking them how I can grow and improve to make them want to stay.
Let’s talk about your clinical approach. What’s your treatment philosophy? Has it changed since you started?
My treatment philosophy is that I wouldn’t do anything to anyone that I wouldn’t do to myself or a family member. I look for the “Wow!” and “OMG!” reaction when I reveal the patient’s before and after pictures.
I tell my patients that I won’t take off the braces until I and they are both happy. I’m not happy until it’s right—I let them know that their teeth are my reputation, and I want to keep it good with them and their general dentist. I also love when patients come back from their general dentist and inform me that the dentist said I did a great job.
My mindset when approaching new cases is, how can I be more efficient in treating to a better outcome? Also, what new and fun technique can I use to get a great result? At times, I think I become obsessive. I want everything perfect.
You’re proudly an “old-school” orthodontist who’s been patient before adopting new technology
or chasing trends. What keeps your love for the old school fresh?
I think of putting on braces like a gut rehab of the mouth, and love the before and after. I took the McLaughlin course, learned how to treat extraction cases by extracting second bicuspids, and loved the new mechanics. I also love seeing how my bracket placement has gotten better over the years, leading to me treating cases much faster.
What’s your favorite patient story?
I had a male patient who had low self- esteem, didn’t show his teeth and spoke in a very low, muffled tone. After orthodontic treatment, he perked up and got married. He told me that what we did to his mouth was life-changing. It was the longest case that I have treated—three years. The patient was Class II left with a bilateral posterior crossbite, and a horizontally impacted maxillary right central incisor. After correcting the crossbite and extracting the maxillary left first premolar, we exposed and guided #8 into position and was able to achieve Class?I canine occlusion.
Because of all of the movement, we did have root resorption of the maxillary incisor. We informed the patient and splinted the upper 3–3. So far, we are still OK: The anterior teeth are stable, and he follows up regularly with his general dentist. We still see him at the office, because his wife is now a patient in active treatment too.
• Standard Herbst appliances
• SureSmile aligners
Band Loc, All Bond
AC adhesive-removing burs
Brackets and wires
GAC Omni Arch Brackets (.022 slot)
GC Fuji Ortho Band
You don’t stress about the competition and you don’t rely on any GP referrals?
I noticed that there are more general dentists practicing orthodontics with clear aligners and braces, resulting in fewer referrals to the orthodontists. I also noticed that many general dentists are opening comprehensive practices and hiring specialists to work in their offices. So, I was left with no choice and changed my practice model to build out space for not only me but also a general dentist and an oral surgeon, thereby keeping everything in house and generating our referrals internally to the practice.
What do you think is the biggest challenge orthodontics will face in the next five to 10 years?
What do you think the solution is or could be?
A couple of thoughts come to mind: One challenge is the viability of stand-alone specialty practices, with so many dentists practicing orthodontics. The other big one is the threat of DSOs coming into the market and taking new grads from private practice opportunities, leaving solo practice owners with staffing issues.
What’s your current marketing and community outreach strategy?
Largely word-of-mouth, radio and social media. We also give patients incentives to refer patients to the office. I also felt that I needed to go directly to the public to inform them of our services, so our office decided to participate in several large expos and festivals during the year. We chose these festivals because of the large number of attendees who are in our target demographic, and also there were no other dentists and orthodontists attending these festivals. We found out that many attendees didn’t know the difference between an orthodontist and a general dentist. Once we educated them, these festivals contributed to a large uptick in new-patient visits and starts.
We visit several schools in the area to market and hire high school students as interns for the summer. I talk to a lot of my younger patients about the importance of higher education and tell them to consider a career in dentistry. We are also one of the only privately owned offices that accepts Medicaid for orthodontic treatment, to help low-income patients.
Work–life balance is a chore and a half. How are you doing with it?
I have a huge village: My mother and siblings help my husband and me with our two children. I also have a sister/friend group that I call upon when I need to have adult time and chill out. I take one week off every three months to regroup. In the summer, I do not work on Saturdays, so I can spend time with my children. I also take time off from the office when my children are off from school, like spring and winter break.
You’re also an avid reader. What are some of your recent reads?
Outside of the practice, I am a wife and mother of two, always transporting someone to violin and ballet lessons, helping them with homework and cooking. I enjoy running along Lake Michigan, and getting together with friends for dinner and drinks. I am learning how to master some of my 93-year-old grandmother’s baking recipes, including sweet potato pie and banana pudding from scratch, and tea cakes. I’m currently reading The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass, The Power of Zero and The Spook Who Sat by the Door.