It's a Vibe by Dr. Courtney Barry

It's a Vibe

5 suggestions for transforming a generic, sterile practice into something that feels special

by Dr. Courtney Barry

Not a day goes by when a patient doesn’t tell me, “Smile Pop doesn’t feel like an orthodontic office—this feels like a spa!” This is something I’ve worked on intentionally over the years and it came about because I thought about my own, underwhelming experience at my dentist’s office growing up. (In short, I hated going to the dentist.) I also designed Smile Pop to feel like a welcoming environment for my own selfish reasons: I’d be spending so many hours of my life in this office, I wanted it to be an atmosphere that I, too, enjoyed visiting.

Think about the last time you visited a primary care office, a hospital or your own dentist growing up. Picture the bright fluorescent lighting, the same kind of chairs placed right next to each other, the chaos around the front office checkout person, the smell of hand sanitizer in the air. How does this type of environment make you feel?

Now, compare that to a favorite place you like to visit—maybe your local coffee shop, Soul Cycle studio, spa or ski chalet. These places stir up a totally different feeling from that primary care office setting—they smell different, look different and just make you feel good. As the Gen Zers say, “It’s a vibe.”

It’s up to you to decide what type of vibe you want to create: A spa- like vibe? A workout studio vibe? A high-end vibe? When I started to think about designing my practice, I wanted to give patients an experience that was different from many other offices. I wanted to function like an orthodontic office, but not give off the “sterile/white box” feeling of a dental or medical office.

Before we dive into five actionable ways you can achieve a spalike, more tranquil vibe in your orthodontic practice, I suggest you do an exercise I tackled when I was thinking about my own future office: Make a list of all the little details you like about the places you love to visit.

I bought myself a tiny Moleskin notebook and listed the places I loved to go throughout my workweek— where I went to relax, burn off some steam, do some window shopping or just escape the hustle and bustle of New York. Next, I’d dive deeper: What exactly about these places is it that I liked? I listed the smell of the eucalyptus towels at my Equinox gym, the signature scented candle that’s always burning at the front desk of the Soul Cycle studio and the “You’ve got this!” neon light that hangs outside the locker room. I even wrote down the cute little card that had been pinned with a mini clothespin to the rim of my Negroni at Rivyera, a French restaurant in St. Barts.

Notice that none of these details has to do with the general services each place offers, like being a gym, a spin class studio or a restaurant. They’re all little touches that create a warm, “Boy, you know how to make me feel special” sense in their visitors.

OK, enough chatting—let’s dive into it! Here are five tips to help you create a great vibe in your practice.

Create a consistent brand atmosphere.
Smile Pop’s brand colors are light pink, gold and white—colors that inspire feelings of kindness and compassion. Since Smile Pop opened, we have consistently burned a Champagne Toast scented candle from Bath and Body Works that makes the office smell like a million bucks. The inspiration came from that Soul Cycle candle, which I love smelling every time I walk into the studio. In addition to smelling good, it’s also in a pink vessel.

Smile Pop also pays a little more for the cute pink coffee cups in which we serve our coffee (and as a bonus, the Nespresso pods are gold-colored). Our cups were inspired by a local coffee shop that serves its beverages in to-go cups with motivational messages written on them. Do they pay extra for them? You bet. Is it worth it? It keeps me coming back, that’s for sure.

We have all-pink Starburst candies and pink sugar-free bubble gum for patients to grab on their way out the door, too. These are little silly things, but the point is, we are consistently cute and pink and our patients recognize it. I believe this shows intention and attention to detail—both traits that patients would want from their orthodontist and their treatment.

Make it easy for patients to book with you.
Think about how you can easily go online and reserve a facial, a haircut or a spin class bike. It takes less than a minute and it didn’t require you to be put on hold by a Karen who may or may not be having a good day. Is your office designed to create this same convenience for new patients—and, just as important, your existing patients?

I use Tops software in my practice, which requires my front desk to manually add patients to our scheduling template but I didn’t let this stop me. I also use Schedulista online scheduling to allow patients to schedule their consults, follow-ups and in-office whitening appointments at their convenience. Behind the scenes, I set the parameters and limitations of which times patients can book, so I remain the one in control.

Taking it one step further, if a patient doesn’t want to come in for a scheduled appointment just to pick up their additional aligners, we created a QR code for patients to scan at checkout, which allows them to create their paid shipping label before they leave. (And of course we ship those aligners in our on-brand matte, metallic pink shipping envelopes.)

Use furniture you might find in a home or a co-working space.

What is it that you love about your home? Bring those elements into your private practice. At Smile Pop, we have traditional dental chairs and task lights, but West Elm pendants hang over the patient chairs to create a warmer light atmosphere. My waiting room chairs and tables are all from West Elm, too, and so are the picture frames that display my diplomas. My coffee bar has cute bowls from CB2 and agate coasters from Anthropologie. We have aromatherapy misting in our private op with my favorite Capri Blu scent. We even upgraded the drawer handles on our chairside cabinets to brass handles from CB2. These furniture pieces and accents are not something a dental supply company would necessarily recommend to you, so think outside the box and get some “home design tips” or inspiration from your local furniture store.

Create an upsell.
When you’re in the checkout line at Starbucks, you could also pick up a new coffee mug, a new roast they’re selling or even a candy bar. While you didn’t come into the shop with the intention of buying something else, you might because it was there. Guess what: That Soul Cycle candle they burn at the check-in desk? It’s also for sale. (Go figure.)

In your office, you can create what retail stores call an “upsell.” Place a retail display selling Movemints, chewies, sugar-free gum, tooth-whitening gels, electric toothbrushes, and other items.

At Smile Pop, I display my line of custom whitening products on Restoration Hardware gold shelves in my waiting room. My patients often buy these products when scheduling their next appointment, and we even have customers walk in off the street to purchase them, too! Like you, our patients like convenience. Create an opportunity for your patients to easily get access to the products you recommend, and you will make a few extra bucks doing it.

Create an office environment that makes the patient feel special.
I think this is the hardest tip of all. Not to keep going back to Soul Cycle, but they bring in a birthday candle for you to blow out at the end of your birthday ride, and they make a big sign on the app that says, “Congrats on crushing your 100th ride, Dr. C!” It’s all about celebrating the little things, in addition to the big things, to make you feel special.

Most offices celebrate the big things, like a patient getting their braces off, but “little things” such as birthdays, engagements, weddings, starting a new job, moving into a new apartment and dumping that loser boyfriend are just as important. Create opportunities to talk to your patients about more than just teeth. Talking about their new job or recent breakup makes them feel heard—or, even better, seen.

However, to do this, everything else in the practice needs to be running smoothly. This means you’re on time with patients, your front desk isn’t bullying the clinical staff and you’re not starving to the point that you’re “hangry.” When operations are running smoothly, you have the capacity to focus on each patient as an individual and make them feel special. Part of our mission statement at Smile Pop is to “be the best part of our patient’s day and make each day feel like a blessing,” but to do that, we as a team need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves. That requires analyzing our schedule and staff interactions weekly and monthly until we find something that allows us to do that. (So, yes, that means team meetings and morning huddles to keep the team symbiosis.)

Being an orthodontist is an amazing career because we can have a lot of influence on the people we interact with every day. We can influence patients verbally by cheering them on at their appointments, but we can also influence them by creating an office atmosphere that has, as the Gen Zers say, “all the feels.” By simply spending some time reflecting on all the details you love about other places you like, you too can start to incorporate those aspects in your orthodontic practice.

Author Bio
Dr. Courtney Barry Dr. Courtney Barry is a board-certified orthodontist who practices in New York at her private practice, Smile Pop. Barry got her start at Southern Illinois University, where she received a Doctor of Dental Medicine, and upon graduating continued her education with a one-year fellowship in orthodontics at the University of Florida and a three-year orthodontic specialty training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Email:

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