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
In this issue, we introduce Dr. Drew Ferris, and one of his two practices in coastal
California. Always the early adopter of
technology, Ferris was the first doctor in the
U.S. to bring in a 5D scanner into his already impressive
arsenal of cutting-edge tech.
Check out this Invisalign master faculty
member’s new digs while learning about
which mistakes most docs make when it
comes to clear aligner therapies, which
technologies are on the verge of exponential
growth, and a new Class II technique this
longtime Townie has created.
Drew Ferris, DDS, MS
UMKC Dental School and Loma
Linda orthodontic residency
Ferris Orthodontic Group
Santa Barbara and Goleta, California
3,000 square feet and 1,600 square feet
You were the first orthodontic
practice in the U.S. to adopt a
5D scanner into your practice.
Tell us about it, how it’s changed
your clinical capabilities, etc.
The iTero 5D. It’s very impressive and
an indication of where our industry is
headed from a digital diagnostic aspect.
I’m now able to use the newest technology
to identify interproximal caries on every
patient I scan. This is important because
it shows the patients and their parents that
as their orthodontist we’re not only there to
diagnose and treat crooked teeth; we also
care about their overall oral health.
Many parents, particularly in California,
are sensitive to the idea of exposing their
children to radiation via an X-ray. They like
knowing that we’re using the most innovative
technology to minimize patient exposure.
This has helped to further differentiate us
from other practices and created a “wow
factor” for our patients. It also has been
beneficial in working with our restorative
dentists, because referrals are no longer
a one-way street; now, when I see any
interproximal decay, I can refer back to
the dentist, who knows that I care about
the patient’s oral health—and they also get
treatment out of it.
The live intraoral color images also
allow me to identify and educate about wear.
The simulation and time-lapse features are
important tools to help encourage patient
starts, and keeping patients motivated
throughout as they visualize their progression.
You’ve had two practices since
2014 but recently made the Santa
Barbara office the flagship location.
What went into that?
I think the new practice is incredible—
state-of-the-art from the ground up. It’s
rare to do a new build in a town like Santa
Barbara, so it was quite a process and a
learning experience. I was a finance and
real estate major in college, but that didn’t
prepare me to deal with all of the permitting
that accompanies raising a new building and
all of the nuances that come along with it.
Fortunately, I had a great team, which
included JoeArchitect and my contractor,
Jimmy Poucher, owner of Velocity DesignBuilders.
Our space isn’t the only thing that
changed; we took this as an opportunity to
refresh our brand. We changed our practice’s
name, designed a new logo and launched a
brand-new website. The thought definitely
crossed our mind that with the new location,
perhaps this was too much change all at
once, but ultimately we decided it was
important for us to design a space that fit
my personality as a clinician and a person,
and this required a shift in the brand, which
had been inherited from my late partner.
I really wanted both our brand and
our space to display our attention to detail,
aesthetics and technology while exuding a
bit of the beachy, California vibe of Santa
Being in our previous location for many
years helped guide what I wanted from a
layout standpoint. Efficiency, flow and
patient experience were the key drivers as
we carried out the design process.
To get technical, you built two new
stand-alone buildings—one for your
orthodontic practice and one for
a new startup pediatric practice.
How did you decide on that? Why
not combine them under one roof?
We’ve spent a lot of time and energy
creating an orthodontic brand that is known
for excellent care. In my opinion, there are
advantages and disadvantages of having
multidisciplinary group practices under one
roof. Sometimes the public—especially in a community like Santa Barbara—views
group practices as being in the DSO arena
and assume decisions are profit-driven,
which would compromise quality of care
and patient experience.
For us, it was important to have a great
pediatric dentist nearby to refer to and
collaborate with while still maintaining
the highest quality of care and allowing for
their independence. We feel that the way the
two practices are set up best allows for this.
Among other accomplishments,
you’ve designed a new technique
for treating Class II cases.
How does it work?
I’ve developed a technique called the
DF2, which capitalizes on the “sagittal-first”
correction treatment protocol that Dr. Luis
Carrière made so well-known. The nice
thing about my design is that in my hands,
it has been very effective and more efficient
at treating full-step Class II cases while using
Invisalign clear aligners and eliminating
additional appliance costs.
It is currently being published in a
peer-reviewed journal, and the effectiveness
and efficiency of the appliance has been very
exciting. We have some residents studying
it compared with other Class II correctors
and are excited to see what the data reveal.
Pandemic-wise, you’re practicing
in one of the hardest-hit areas
and walking the tightrope along
some of the strictest state
guidelines. How have things been?
The pandemic has really allowed me to
accelerate some of the things I was already
doing from a virtual standpoint within our
practice. When March 2020 came, I have
never been so happy to have such a large
share of chair in clear aligner treatment,
because those patients were continuing to
advance orthodontically while my traditional
bracket cases were dead in the water due to
not being able to be seen.
With all of the travel and exposure I had
during my previous years of educating and
lecturing, I was already treating patients
from outside the state—and sometimes
even outside the country—so I already had
some virtual communication platforms and
techniques in place for starting new patients
and monitoring existing ones. When the
pandemic hit, I scaled up options like offering
virtual new-patient exams to everyone and
using SmileSnap on my website, which allows
people to submit consultation requests at all
hours of the day and night.
I have benefited from the companies I
work with that have developed virtual care
capabilities into their digital platforms.
I consider implementation of these
virtual care systems as steps in helping to
“future-proof” my practice.
1. iTero Element 5D scanner.Every new
patient gets a scan. Use the software
(simulation, etc.) to communicate and
educate on treatment and to plan
interdisciplinary cases with restorative
dentists and specialists..
2. Invisalign clear aligners.A significant
percentage of patients in my office
are treated with Invisalign. It has
increased patient acceptance for
orthodontic treatment, increased
referrals and allowed me to operate
on a digital platform, improving
efficiency and profitability.
3. Planmeca ProMax 3D Mid withProFace. Allows us to create
high-resolution 3D scans while
maintaining 2D capabilities. This has
greatly improved my diagnostic and
treatment planning capabilities.
4. SprintRay Pro 3D printer. This printer
has allowed us to print models
accurately and efficiently, from which
we make in-house appliances.
5. 75-inch Dell interactive 4K touchmonitor. We have one in each
treatment coordinating room.
Being able to “manipulate” a patient’s
skull in 3D in conjunction with their
iTero simulation with the touch
of a finger is extremely valuable
for patient education and creates
a major “wow factor.”
You’re a master faculty member
with Invisalign. What are the most
common mistakes you see doctors
make with clear aligner therapies?
Not taking the time to dig deep and
learn the ins and outs of how the appliance
really works. Although Align Technology
has made great strides in its algorithms and
its aligner design, it is still just a tool that
is only as good as the doctor’s prescription
input and ClinCheck design.
It’s imperative that clinicians take
ownership of their setups, understand
attachment design and understand what
to prioritize in order to get the movements
that are desired. The teeth don’t care what
appliance, whether braces or clear aligners,
is placing the force on them to cause their
movement. There are too many great
clinicians saying that aligners can’t do X,
Y or Z in certain cases.
If you’re struggling to make an aligner
achieve a specific movement, then it’s important
to continue to educate yourself in those
areas. Virtual education has really ramped
up and allowed doctors to be specific in the
continuing education they need.
What’s your go-to
Marketing has such a broad scope with
many avenues to explore, but my favorite
efforts center on community involvement.
One example is our involvement in Santa
Barbara Teen Star, a singing competition for
local youth that’s judged by local celebrities,
such as Kenny Loggins. Essentially, it’s Santa
Barbara’s version of American Idol.
I sponsor the event and donate a free
Invisalign case to the winner. The recipients
are generally ecstatic to get orthodontics,
because many of them plan on being big
stars in the music industry and see having
a nice smile as greatly important. And the
fact that it’s Invisalign makes them even
happier because it doesn’t interfere with
their aesthetic while performing.
Your new office is gorgeous! Tell us
about the design, the build and how
the final look came together.
My wife, Alexandria, and I spent a lot of
time researching architects and, eventually,
contractors to build our vision. My youngest
patients are around the age of 5 and my oldest is 91, so I wanted it to appeal to all
ages and really represent the quality of care
that we provide.
We wanted something that was on
trend and modern while still being timeless
and represented our attention to detail and
state-of-the-art technology and treatment.
We wanted to achieve all of that while
still maintaining a warm, friendly and fun
We went with a Mediterranean modern
aesthetic to achieve this and fit with our
beachy Santa Barbara vibe. State-of-the-art
technology is a major component of
the office—including our many iTero
scanners, our CBCT and 3D printer, and our
interactive touch-screen displays—and then
we added details such as a technology/iPad
bar, a candy station and a commercial-grade
Jura coffee/espresso bar to make them feel
well taken care of. Those little experiential
components make a huge difference in the
patient’s overall experience.
Let’s shine a light on your team.
What do they do incredibly well
and how have you helped make
sure they have the tools needed
All of them are incredibly well trained
in their positions. Our back-office team all
have their Orthodontic Assistant Permit
certificates, which means they’re as advanced
as it gets from an assistant standpoint. My
front-office team is cross-trained to help
with back-office responsibilities as needed,
but I really have them focus on customer
care and patient experience.
My team truly believes that we’re all
working together to create exceptional
lives through remarkable smiles. We do
various in-services and send staff members
to relevant external trainings to help them
learn various new skills.
For us, it’s huge that they understand
and effectively communicate the value in
starting treatment with our practice. We
truly want our patients to understand and
feel that they’re becoming a part of our
Ferris Orthodontic Group family and will
be treated as such.
You’ve seen digital imaging evolve
over the years. What do you think
is in the future for orthodontics
that new or even theoretical digital
technology could offer?
I’m always amazed at how far technology
has come in the 10 years that I’ve been in
orthodontics. When I first started, I had
the first iTero scanner, and now we have the
5D. Not only have the speed and size of the
scanners greatly improved, but so have the
capabilities of the software with simulations,
time lapse, caries detection, etc.
I think over the next five to 10 years, the
technology is going to progress exponentially.
For sure there will be advancement in the
platforms that allow for seamless communication
and treatment planning between
CBCT, intraoral scan and orthodontic,
restorative and surgical capabilities. Also, I
think we will see more robotics in dentistry
in our lifetime.
And even more in the immediate future,
I think we’ll probably see an improvement
in scanning capabilities with things like our
personal handheld devices. Access to care
will continue to improve as the technology
As orthodontists, I feel we’re in a great
position because we possess the highest
level of training to move teeth. Despite
all of these direct-to-consumer companies
entering the marketplace and attempting
orthodontics, people ultimately value the
best they can get.
What changes have you made with
your workflow over the years that
other doctors might benefit from?
Some of the changes have revolved
around using the efficiencies that technology
provides and creating systems to delegate
to my team so that I can still treat at the
highest level while opening up the capacity
to see more and more new patients, and still
maintaining a high quality of life outside
the office. Having a ClinCheck coordinator
is one improvement that comes to mind.
With the quantity of cases I start per year,
traditionally I would have to have at least
one or two associates able to handle the
workload. However, because I have a high
share of chair with aligners, I can delegate
initial prescription submissions and logistics
to my ClinCheck coordinator.
Also, with appointment intervals less
frequent, more chair time is open and I can
continue to grow as a one-doctor practice
while overseeing multiple offices. Overall,
having aligner therapy as a high percentage
of practice in conjunction with training a
ClinCheck coordinator has allowed me more
time to actually see and spend time with my
patients and work on the business—and has
also freed up more time to spend with my
What advice would you give
a new graduate?
First, don’t be afraid to make capital
investments in your office, such as in
technology, and then remember to always
leverage that technology. Showing and
educating your patients on the technology
you have and how this improves their
treatment experience or outcome will add
value to what you’re doing and will allow
your practice to grow, which will help you
pay down debt.
Also, don’t shy away from aligners early
on. The marketing, consumer awareness and
demand for clear aligners is at an all-time
high. I truly believe it would be a mistake not
to capitalize on it. Use third-party lending
for cases if capital is tight initially, and you
should start to see cash flow quickly with
the growth you see from providing your
patients with what they want.
Patients are also consumers: They want the
best treatment in the shortest time possible
in the most seamless, efficient manner.
Focus on quality care while creating an
Let’s talk golf. What’s your favorite
course? What was your best round?
Which pro golfer would you most
like to play with? Which celebrity?
My favorite golf trip to date was down
to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to play the El
Dorado and Twin Dolphin Club, among
others. I love playing right on the ocean,
and the incredible amenities don’t hurt. As
for my best single round, I shot 64, but that
was before I got into dentistry.
Tiger Woods was in his prime dominance
when I was playing high school and college
golf. I still love watching him play, and he
would have to be the pro that I would still
love to have a round with.
What do you believe is
the biggest problem facing
I think the biggest challenge for orthodontics
as a whole will be continuing to play
our cards right and educating the public
on the difference in treatment between
DIY orthodontic options, GPs and us
specialists. Never has there been a time
in history when hundreds of millions of
dollars are spent marketing our profession.
The exposure is incredible—we just need
to capitalize on it.
Give us a snapshot of your life
outside of practice.
I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri, and
my parents still live there. (My two sisters
live in Kansas City, which is less than four
Living in Santa Barbara has been a
dream. With both the mountains and the
ocean within a five-minute drive, it’s one
of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
I feel so fortunate to call it home.
I met my wife, Alexandria, in Santa Barbara
six years ago. We have a 16-month-old
son and are super excited to be welcoming
our second boy to the family in May. As a
family, we really enjoy the outdoors and
anything active—golf, skiing, going to
the gym, running, hiking and cycling, to
name a few.