by Arselia Gales, assistant editor
photography by Patrick Heagney
Orthodontists spend most of their working hours in their practices, so they usually 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.
Every year, we select one Townie at random from those who completed ballots in the Townie Choice Awards to win our grand prize: the chance to be featured in an Office Visit profile and appear on the January/February cover of Orthotown magazine. This year’s winner, Dr. Emily Howell of Howell Orthodontics in Jefferson, Georgia, is a former Miss Georgia winner who combines her business acumen with her love of orthodontics to run a successful practice with a close-knit feel.
Read on to see how this hometown orthodontist with a business background built her practice from scratch and gives back to her community while developing a connection with each and every one of her 500 active patients.
Dr. Emily F. Howell
• University of Georgia: BBA degree in management information systems and summa cum laude with highest honors
• Medical College of Georgia: Doctor of Dental Medicine degree and certificate in orthodontics and dentofacial
4,000 square feet
You became interested in orthodontics at a young age. What made orthodontics so appealing to you?
I had braces as a teenager and was fascinated by how my teeth straightened with brackets and wires and how my confidence and self-esteem greatly increased from a better smile. I realized that being an orthodontist was exactly what I wanted to do with my life! I worked for my orthodontist for several
summers, which further convinced me that this was the field in which I wanted to work and help others.
Your journey to becoming an orthodontist is far from typical. In addition to majoring in business, you participated in pageants to earn scholarships and eventually were crowned Miss Georgia! Tell us about your experience competing in pageants and how that helped you in your career.
In an attempt to obtain scholarships for several years of dental school, I sought after and won the title of Miss Georgia and went on to compete in the Miss America Pageant. I won more than $25,000 in scholarships that helped me pay for dental school. As Miss Georgia, I was required to, and fortunately enough was able to, take one year off from dental school to travel throughout the state, promoting my platform, “Connecting Character to Careers.” I created this program to inspire leaders to help instill positive
character traits in children.
Today, I continue to strive to be a positive role model to patients, host many students in the office for educational shadowing experiences, and speak at many local youth and business gatherings.
What did you enjoy the most about pageants? What did you learn in your
year off from dental school?
I never imagined pageants would build character and strength in me; however, I enjoyed improving in my physical exercise, piano performances, speaking engagements and stage presence. I met so many people and learned about regions throughout Georgia that I previously knew very little about. I stayed mostly in volunteer homes instead of hotels—no more than two nights at one time throughout the year, which was interesting, to say the least! I had more than 200 booked engagements and traveled over 50,000 miles throughout the state of Georgia that year. I had fun and even met my husband that year! However, after this busy travel schedule, I was certainly ready to get back to dental school when the year was over.
How would you say your business degree has helped you run your practice?
I cannot even articulate how much my business degree helped me run my practice! I was told by my orthodontist and mentor, Dr. Charles Lindsey, that business classes would be nice to have. I took it one step further and majored in business, against my college dental adviser’s advice. I have
never regretted this, because I have used accounting, management, finance, marketing, risk management and public relations to guide the growth in our practice. Many clinicians get in a leveraged situation out of the gate because
they don’t understand the cost of capital. I paid off debt very early, which enabled me to save for and build a brand new, much larger practice right when we needed it.
What essential skills/roles did you learn when starting out?
I learned from my mentors (and can confirm from personal experience) that caring for patients is way more important than any money we make. Each patient is different and deserves their very own treatment plan. I have never been one to say I “never extract,” only use certain treatment modalities or products, or always start patients at a certain age. I strongly believe that it is very beneficial to wait on patient growth, development and maturity to have a successful and stable result. That isn’t marked by a specific age or even dental development.
I take one patient at a time and give my best judgment on when to start orthodontics. I have always taken time to explain to patients and parents why I recommend treatment or why I don’t, and parents have learned to trust my conservative treatment plans that lead to a great result and stability
1. Clarity Advanced Brackets. Beautiful on any tooth color, stays true to color and easy to debond.
2. 3M L-Pop. Easy and fast to etch with great bonding success.
3. 3M Transbond (bracket glue). Bonds well. Our bond failure rate is extremely low. (Less than 10 bond failures per month!)
4. iTero Scanner. It reduces anxiety of impressions for patients, is beneficial on timing on getting appliances sent to the lab and better fit. Retainers fit more accurately, and the scanner has the final picture of when teeth are perfect.
5. Juell 3D printer. Allows us to still create same-day, better fitting retainers and create in-house aligners. Patients can save the 3D resin (reusable) models for us to make a duplicate in minutes as needed.
How soon after graduating did you start your practice? How has your practice grown and evolved since then?
I worked around the clock while in residency to build my practice from scratch
so I would immediately be ready to work. I graduated on a Friday night in December 2007 and started seeing patients in our office the very next week! We have grown from one employee and doctor to a team of 10, and we have grown from zero patients to more than 500 active patients in treatment. We even have close to an 85% conversion rate even after our COVID-19 shutdown. We have nearly 350 Google reviews with a five-star rating. The number of patients is not near as important to us as excellent patient care and family satisfaction in our
treatment process from start to finish.
Walk us through an average day at your practice.
We all check in with COVID-19 protocols (temp taking and complete questionnaire), get things in the clinic ready for the day and meet in the conference room with masks on at 7:30 a.m. In our 10-minute meeting we discuss any practice concerns, schedule alerts and prayer concerns/praises.
I then read a short Christian devotional and lead the group in prayer before we all recite our motto together, “Sharing God’s love through exceptional orthodontics.”
We see approximately 40 to 45 patients throughout the day, with lunch from 12:25 to 1:25 p.m. and end our day around 4:15. We have always put family first, and I feel like this schedule makes that possible. On Mondays, we have our meeting from 11:50 a.m. to noon and see our first patient at 12:05 p.m. Therefore, we work 3½ days and are off 3½ days. Someone is in our office to answer phones at minimum from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Fridays and 8 a.m. to noon on Mondays.
What do you enjoy the most about orthodontics? What is your treatment
philosophy, and what treatments do you specialize in?
I love what I do every day and feel so fulfilled by building relationships with patients and seeing the results of our hard work in their smile and renewed confidence.
I use mostly clear braces and aligners and am very conservative in deciding on if and when to do Phase I and full treatments. I only do what I would do for my own children. I treat patients with mild to moderate TMD, developmentally disabled patients and patients of all ages.
Tell us about some of the things you implemented pre-COVID that have
helped you provide treatment during the pandemic.
We have responded to the pandemic in a very progressive and positive way. We started Zoom new-patient exams during the shutdown and continued that afterward. It has been so helpful for patients and parents, and very efficient and effective for us as well! We send patients a video that I created on how to take great pictures and the patients/parents send these to our treatment coordinator before the Zoom appointment.
Our treatment coordinator gathers information from the new patient’s general
dentist (last dental visit, pending dental treatment, recent panoramic radiographs, etc.) and then sends it to me to treatment plan. I formulate the best plan I can from the information I receive (and sometimes the plan is to bring in the patient for further orthodontic records, sometimes it is to review oral hygiene in detail, and sometimes they’re
ready for orthodontic treatment.)
A few years ago, we purchased a 3D scanner and then a 3D printer and expanded our lab to include a 3D lab. We create our own aligners so patients can get started sooner and have a very customized plan that flows well without having to wait on lab/shipping delays.
What’s your favorite patient story?
Over a decade ago we started a program, Give a Grin, where we rewarded a full set of braces to a Jackson County middle school student who would otherwise never be able to afford braces. When we place the braces and see the excitement of starting this journey, that is one thing. However, when the time comes for the braces to be removed and the new smile revealed to that child who may not have otherwise been able to have this, it’s overwhelming for all of us to see!
What gives you the most professional satisfaction?
I receive the most professional satisfaction in seeing patients after treatment showing confidence and high self-esteem, getting compliments on their smiles and some even wanting to become an orthodontist to give others the same feeling!
Your practice is in a central location less than 2 miles from your house and
you describe it as having a “small-town feel.” What do you enjoy most about this distinction and how do you use it to market to new patients?
I grew up in a small town and have seen firsthand the benefits of living where
people work together to make a difference, support one another and give back through community service. As an adult living here in Jefferson for more than 13 years, I have poured into this community, but not nearly as much as this community has poured into me and into my family. My husband has the distinct honor of serving as mayor
of the city of Jefferson and we are a part of a great church, chamber and Rotary club. Our children attend a world-class public school system and there is a great sense of pride in the community that is rarely seen in other areas.
What do you like to do in your spare time? What keeps you occupied outside of orthodontics?
My faith, my family and my church are very important to me and occupy my
time outside of work. I also enjoy painting, singing, outdoor exercise and taking trips to the beach.
What are some of your goals for 2021? Where do you see yourself in your
practice in this decade?
I pray for our practice to still be growing and that I will continually be learning new techniques for the best patient care I can give! Over the coming decade I hope to maintain my practice family (Lord willing) and grow into exactly the community outreach God leads us to be. I do not plan to add an associate or additional practice location, because I really enjoy the autonomy of being a single-doctor practice and the simplicity
and congruity that comes with having only one location.
Discover more about virtual appointments!
Also in this issue, Dr. Emily Howell walks readers through her virtual treatment protocol in more detail. Click here to learn what her team says—and how they say it—to help increase patient acceptance and compliance.