Houston-area cosmetic dentist Dr. Simone Ellis was determined to achieve success on her terms, and she’s doing it in a renovated practice with “scream-to-the-moon” aesthetic appeal.
AMONG DR. SIMONE ELLIS’S firm beliefs is the notion that anyone who wants to build something useful and lasting will encounter great challenges along the way. How the cosmetic dentist herself tackles such tasks is instructive: Set a goal, map a plan to achieve it . . . and maintain a sense of humor throughout.
Case in point is Smile Design Studios, her 2,750-square-foot masterwork in Missouri City, Texas, just outside Houston. The renovated space—whose development had to contend with the usual hiccups inherent to any construction project and then, of course, a global pandemic—represents the apex of her 15-year commitment (and counting) to providing the highest-quality cosmetic dentistry.
Dr. Ellis, a 37-year-old Kansas City native, was drawn to the profession having seen the effect poor access to oral care had on her father, Seth, when she was young. His experience made her “passionate about educating people about dentistry,” she says.
She achieved that goal starting at Xavier University of Louisiana, a school with a sterling record of placing minority candidates in dental schools nationwide. She received a scholarship to New Jersey’s University of Medicine and Dentistry (now Rutgers School of Dental Medicine) and then, only a year out of school, opened an independent practice in Houston. “A cosmetic-dental office, that was my goal,” Dr. Ellis says. That ambition led her to the Aesthetic Advantage educational program run by Drs. Michael Apa (who graced Incisal Edge’s Summer 2020 cover as one of the 32 Most Influential People in Dentistry) and Larry Rosenthal in Manhattan. “Dr. Apa elevates dentistry to another level,” she says. “It makes you feel like you’re visiting Nordstrom or Neiman Marcus. I had never seen anything like that in the South, and I wanted to have it.”
Upon returning to Houston, she found a suitable location for a new practice and began a substantial eight-month renovation that cost some $500,000 for the construction and new equipment. Her patients and staff now reap the benefits of that investment from the moment they arrive. “The Dolly Parton quote when you first walk in—‘If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours’—is important,” Dr. Ellis says.
I’m just proud of surviving. Every day I wake up and say ‘I’m still here.’ I finally am where I should have been 10 years ago: dentistry the way I want to do it, and I don’t have to answer to anyone—no stigma, no stereotype.”
Care during Covid-19
“To ensure that we’re staying as sterile as possible—and to address the plush furniture [in Smile Design Studios’ reception area], a professional cleaning company comes through weekly. They know what we want, as far as following OSHA standards. Dental offices have always been a place where safety is important, so my processes are pretty much the same. We’ve also hired a patient-care concierge whose responsibility is making sure the environment is ideal.” —Dr. Simone Ellis
Thereafter, the elegance of the new space asserts itself: gold accents and modern lighting augmented by a bold, crisp color palette. “I’m the kind of person who’s ‘extra’ in my own way,” the doctor says. “If something is sparkly or brightly colored, I’m all over it. Here, I could bring the elements of the metals but add clean lines. I wanted it cohesive, modern and high-tech.”
Dr. Ellis began the renovation in October 2019; the pandemic extended it through last July. “The transition to my new office was supposed to take a week, but it didn’t wrap up for a month. It was a very, very stressful time.” She lost a full quarter’s worth of revenue during the shutdown, as well as a chunk of her staff—either via layoff or those who had to become stay-at-home moms to kids unable to go to school. “When I said I wanted to be a dentist, I did not expect to be an HR person, a social worker, a social-media curator, a photographer,” she says of her pandemic experience and manifold other business responsibilities. “But you just have to navigate. Now I’m offering Botox and lip fillers, renting space to a specialist. I had to figure this out if I’m going to grow.
“I’m just proud of surviving,” she continues. “Every day I wake up and say ‘I’m still here.’ I finally am where I should have been 10 years ago: dentistry the way I want to do it, and I don’t have to answer to anyone—no stigma, no stereotype.”
That goes double for her new practice space itself, whose appeal goes beyond mere surface beauty to become an atmospheric essence that Dr. Ellis says she hopes remains with her patients long after their appointments. “I just hired a patient-care concierge who is focused on making the experience fantastic. When you walk in the door, you receive a ‘comfort menu,’ and when you leave, a warm chocolate-chip cookie,” she says. “I want you to be able to scream to the moon that this place is just beyond.”
“Planning on the front end is so important for the back end, just like in dentistry. If a case is properly planned, it’s easier to execute. I didn’t necessarily want custom-designed ergonomics, for instance, but the flow is so much better, and the ergonomic feel of the office is great. Take time to put a lot of thought on the front end—a lot of times as dentists we’re goal-oriented and can get a little rigid.”
—Dr. Simone Ellis
The Design Team
Photographer: TK Images: tkimages.com
Interior Design: Taylor Haight, CenterPoint Design, Benco Dental; Dr. Courtney Landry, Calla Designs; Victoria Paquin, Design Ergonomics • Contractor: Med Tech Construction, Houston • Architect: Emerson Jones, ArchPrecision Inc., Houston • IT: Garry Lee, Vortex Computer Systems • Dental Designer: Benco Dental • Equipment Specialist: Eric Martinez, Benco Dental • Friendly Benco Rep: Matt Ungashick