Office Visit: Dr. Jessica Cohen by Sam Mittelsteadt, editor & creative director

Office Visit: Dr. Jessica Cohen 

by Sam Mittelsteadt, editor and creative director
photography by Robin Subar

Orthodontists spend most of their working hours inside their own 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 how they practice.

Although this Townie grew up in and around her father’s dental practice, she originally had no interest in following him into the industry; instead, Dr. Jessica Cohen got a business degree and started selling telecommunications … which she found lucrative but unfulfilling. So after some soul-searching, Cohen went back to school—this time, dental school, followed by an orthodontic residency in which she studied beauty pageants in an effort to quantify what judges considered most beautiful. (Answer: convex profiles and decreased anterior facial heights.)

Cohen practiced for years at a dental corporation in Chicago, which she says provided the skills and knowledge required when she finally decided it was time to go off on her own and open a practice in Highland Park, Illinois, the community she lives in. Six months into the search for the perfect location, she and her father found a former photography studio on the corner in a historic neighborhood, and the work began on turning it into something that felt more like a spa than an orthondontist’s office. The result won Cohen the 2021 ADA Design Innovation Award for small new builds.

We tour the light, airy premises and talk to the doctor herself about the challenges behind the build-out, rebranding yourself as a medical expert as well as a mom, and how she thinks the COVID-19 pandemic actually helped her start-up business even though it forced her to close her doors only three months after they first opened.

Office Highlights

Jessica Cohen, DMD, MS Diplomate, American Board of Orthodontics

Graduated from:
University of Wisconsin–
Madison (bachelor’s in business)
Case Western Reserve
University (dental school)
University of Illinois at Chicago
(orthodontic residency)

Practice name:
Jessica Cohen Orthodontics
Highland Park, Illinois

Practice size:
1,073 square feet
3 chairs, 1 consult room

Team size:

Entries in the “new build” category don’t have to be freshly constructed from the ground up; your practice won after you purchased and remodeled an existing property. How did you find the location, and what were you looking for at the time?

After six months of scouring Highland Park on a daily basis for a location with great parking, great visibility, easy access from schools and full of sunlight, my dad (a dentist in Ohio) and I stumbled upon a historical corner in Highland Park. It had a “for rent” sign up in the window so I gave the number a call. The space was first a hair salon, then a photography studio and now what I call my second home. The build-out required a full-gut rehab.

I was looking for an easily accessible space with high visibility and a ton of sunlight. We are across from the train station and the library, and next to the Highland Park Historical Society.

What type of work was involved to refit the space into an orthodontic office that reflected your desired aesthetic?

I worked with Apex for my build-out. They were incredible and I highly recommend anyone interested using them for a build-out! They did my cabinets and their team executed my vision. I recently had built a home so I knew the finishes I wanted—I have a passion for design and loved selecting everything from the colors to the rug textures.

Highland Park has very specific rules regarding signage: Traditionally, only two signs are allowed for a building. After my presentation in front of the Highland Park regulation committee, I was able to secure an additional sign on my corner awning.

The build-out process took seven months and was a labor of love. We found asbestos and did a full abatement. We cut additional windows into the brick walls for added sunlight. I didn’t want a traditional orthodontic office; I wanted it to feel like someone’s home or a spa. Every corner you turn, you see something pretty, and there’s a lot of sunlight to make things brighter.

When the work was done, what was the end result?

I have a chic, welcoming reception area, a beverage station, one consult room, three open-bay chairs that face the windows, a perch on my 10-foot island, a lab including 3D printing technology and a small break room area.

The bathroom is stocked with Aesop hand cleanser, Nest candles and Le Labo scented humifiers. I want my patients— both adults and kids—to feel relaxed and tranquil while being treated. Most importantly, I want to be mindful of their five senses. I try to always provide something beautiful to look at, our music is fun and upbeat, the beverage station provides a broad range of flavors, and our patient chairs are extremely soft to complement our signature scent.

Did you encounter any changes or surprises?

The largest surprise was the asbestos.

As a startup practice, what technology did you opt to include right away? And what’s next on your list as the practice grows?

From the start of my practice, I invested in an iTero scanner, a SprintRay 3D printer, a Vatech pan-ceph machine, Dolphin Cloud imaging and management software, the Weave communication system, Canva for marketing and social media posts and a Spectralase soft-tissue laser. I opted for this technology from the start to ensure a high quality of being efficient and maximum usage of my space. A second scanner and 3D printer is next on my list.

Now let’s back up and discuss how you decided to become an orthodontist.

My road to becoming a orthodontist was an exciting path! My father is a dentist in Ohio with multiple practices in the Cleveland area and my mom has always worked in the practice, too. Both of my parents wanted me to be in dentistry but I never wanted to. (I’m not sure if my parents pushing me into dentistry actually pushed me away or why I didn’t see my destined path from the start!)

I majored in business at University of Wisconsin–Madison. After I graduated, I sold telecommunications—it turned out that the money was great, but I didn’t feel challenged. I wanted a greater meaning and purpose to contribute to the public good.

My mom has always been an amazing role model and my biggest cheerleader, and my father has always been grounded yet inspirational. After much thought, I came to the realization to what my parents already knew: Dentistry was the profession for me.

I like dentistry, but love-love-love orthodontics. Orthodontics made a huge difference in my own life, when I recognized at an early age how a beautiful smile can contribute to confidence. I was the first in my grade to have braces.

I also love aesthetics; I whitened my friends’ teeth as a teen! I would go to the drug tore and get football mouthguards, and use the Opalescence bleach in my fridge to make sure that all my friends’ teeth were pristine.

Because I’m particularly interested in aesthetics, during my orthodontic residency I studied beauty pageant queens to try to quantify beauty. Although beauty is subjective, my study found that convex profiles and decreased anterior facial heights were considered “more beautiful” by the pageant queen judges.

My clinical patient goals are rooted in a comprehensive blend of published research and personal experience.

How did business classes and industry experience help you in practice?

They helped me set goals, create branding, build my reputation and grow my business. Having worked in sales and marketing gave me the courage to go out and introduce myself. It also made me more comfortable with knowing my worth, asking for the sale, accepting rejection, etc.

I know I can’t make everyone happy, and practicing in a community that I live, I’m always feeling a tremendous pressure. However—and I know this sounds cheesy!—as long as I stay true to myself, it will all work out.

What were your first years of dental school and practice like?

Filled with studying and traveling! I met my husband in college, and we moved in together after graduation. Shortly after, we were engaged, then married, and we maintained a long-distance marriage for four years while I studied in Ohio at Case Western Reserve University and he lived in Chicago.

I applied only to University of Illinois in Chicago for my orthodontic residency program, and we had the first of our three children during my third year of residency.

After I graduated from residency, I worked for a dental corporation in Chicago. I stayed there for more than a decade, and I’m grateful for the opportunity it offered to grow as a clinician and figure how I really wanted to practice orthodontics.

Just before our third daughter was born, we moved to Highland Park, where my husband grew up. I commuted into Chicago for two years to work at the corporation office and also co-chair the orthodontic clinic at Midwestern University. My kids didn’t like me driving an hour to work in the city because I’d miss school drop-offs (and I didn’t like it either!). So I quickly started looking for my own practice.

So you decided to buy in the community you lived in.

Highland Park is a place that’s filled with generations of families, so I feel lucky to be part of the community.

I bought the space in April 2019. To help get my name out, I invited my friends and the community to participate in the Highland Park Fourth of July Parade: I got a trolley and we passed out toothbrushes, shirts and treats to get my brand out. For my ribbon-cutting ceremony, I invited friends and family, our daughters’ friends came dressed as tooth fairies. It was a day I will always remember and hopefully one that they will never forget!

It’s important to me as a mom that my children see me doing something I love.

There was a good three months there …

The practice opened in November 2019, and then in March we had to close the doors because of COVID-19 shutdowns. While the office was closed, we did as many virtual visits as possible to adequately social distance at the office.

We reopened gradually, having only patients who really had to be in the office come in. We added three Purafil PuraShield smart air filtration machines. Thankfully, my husband is the fourth generation in a PPE company called Magid Glove and Safety, so we had ample access to nitrile gloves and N95 masks. We also made large mask donations to Midwestern University and other local dentists and orthodontists in the neighborhood.

I believe COVID actually helped us as a start-up! I got lucky that everyone was in a mask or on Zoom. I was getting a lot of adult patients who had always wanted orthodontics but never could find the right time to start treatment. Now I’m also getting those adult patients’ children!

Top Products

A Sprintray 3D printer allows my practice to keep up with the evolving times and stay efficient. Helps our workflow and branding as we make “DJC” in-house retainers and aligners via uLab Systems.

Our iTero Element intraoral scanner eliminated impressions and allows for faster aligner delivery and turnaround times.

Orascopic loupes allow me to better position brackets.

Dolphin Cloud imaging and management software streamlines efficiencies like scheduling, record organization, schedule management and office letters.

DJC whitening pens are convenient and easy to apply. Patients love their whitening results!

How’s the practice doing now?

I’m growing and grateful. We started from scratch with zero patients, and the only staff was my practice manager, Kelsey, and me. I met Kelsey while working in the city and always told her that one day I was going to open my own practice and take her with me. Now we are a team of five!

You mentioned some live events earlier— how else are you marketing your practice?

Because I lived in Highland Park before I opened this practice, most people only knew me as “Scarlett, Shiloh and Skye’s mom, Jessica.” Now, I’m trying to add the professional aspect, too, so I’m “Dr. Jessica, TheBracesMom.” I use social media, particularly Instagram, to grow my practice, educate the community and show everyone my work, who I am and who my team is.

I’ve partnered with other businesses that share a similar target audience, doing podcasts and giveaways where both companies benefit. For example, when patients get their braces on, we give them a certificate for a free “DJC Braces Bowl” at a local smoothie restaurant.

We also support many local charities and foundations. My father-in-law, who died of COVID-19 in December 2020, was a huge philanthropist who had created scholarship funds to support young people who wanted to attend college. After he passed away, Magid decided to use the scholarship funds for students interested in health and environmental sciences careers as safety professionals, and partnered with Chicago Scholars on the effort. For every new start at the practice, we donate $50 to support that fund, which between the community and Magid has raised a cumulative $200,000 so far.

What’s your typical workday like now?

My girls get up around 7 a.m., and come downstairs dressed and ready for school. We have breakfast and do a family huddle around 8 to get ready for their day, then I drop them off at school before heading into the office.

On Mondays, we see patients either 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. or noon to 6 p.m., depending on the week. Tuesdays are 10 to 5, Wednesdays are administrative days, and we see patients every other Thursday noon to 6 and every other Friday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. We work one Saturday a month during winter, fall and spring.

As a startup, it was hard to use scheduling templates at first—we just wanted to get our patients in the door! Now we do bondings and debonds in the morning and save afternoon appointments mainly for adjustments.

What’s the toughest part of practice as a new owner?

Because I grew up immersed in my father’s practice, I came in pretty familiar with how private practice works. My husband does make a great therapist to help me sort through all the dental office drama, though! For real: He offers great insight with things like management and critical and logical thinking.

Do you have a favorite patient case or story?

I have so many, it’s hard to pick one! For example, I still have patients who come from the city. I also love treating all of my friends and family in Highland Park.Office Visit: Dr. Jessica Cohen

One of my favorites is a woman named Hina (pictured at right), who was one of the first patients to come through my Highland Park office door. She sat in tears in my consult room with Kelsey and me talking about how self-conscious she was about her smile. I explained to her the process, she started treatment that day, and we used Invisalign to close her spacing, align her bite and give her the smile that she was dreaming of. She has since referred more patients than we can count on our hands.

Any advice for doctors who are thinking about remodeling their practices?

  • Do it! You won’t regret it. But do your research and have a detailed plan.
  • Size matters. Establish nonnegotiables. And don’t let anyone tell you what you need. You do you!
  • Work with the right professionals. (Apex was amazing.)
  • Dolly Parton said it best: Never get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.

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