New dentist makes it personal
Dave Perry/The Explorer, Dr. Todd Southall has modern equipment at his new dental practice in Oro Valley's Innovation Park.

Dr. Todd Southall built a thriving, "very busy" dental practice in Gunnison, Colo.

He wanted something more.

"I didn't feel I was doing the kind of dentistry I needed to be doing," said Southall, who was trained at Abilene Christian University and Case Western Reserve. "It had evolved into a 'drill and fill' practice. For what I'm trying to do with my practice, I felt I needed a change."

He heard Dr. John Kois speak about a proactive approach to dentistry, as compared to a reactive approach. "It just clicked with me right away.

"It's a paradigm shift," he said. "It's really interesting. I can fix teeth, that's the easy part. I get more joy out of getting somebody healthy and keeping them there."

Southall completed a two-year program at the Kois Center in Seattle. He sold the Colorado practice, and began looking in a warmer climate for a place to practice. Oro Valley was "a good fit," Southall said. "It felt like home right away."

Dr. Todd Southall has opened his preventative and restorative dental practice in Oro Valley's burgeoning Innovation Park.

A preventative and restorative dental practice "is not the typical 'drill and fill'," he said. "I do crowns and veneers and fillings. But it's more important to ask 'why are you where you're at right now? What do we need to do to get you down the road? How can we make dentistry more personal?' People want a personalized experience. That's what we're trying to provide."

A relationship begins with a complete, "very thorough" examination. Southall generates "a review of findings" report. "A week later, we sit in here and go through everything," he said. "We talk about options, treatment levels, the risks and benefits of both."

Risk factors for tooth decay and gum disease are evaluated, with no blame assigned.

"We need to stop beating the patients up," Southall said. "It's not your fault."

Southall's patients have a choice of what remedies they'll pursue. While there is "a threshold we won't go below, we have to offer our patients options. At the end of the day, it's what you want, how healthy you want to be."

The practice files with all insurances. With any comprehensive treatment, Southall seeks a pre-determination of coverage with an insurance company. "In this climate, we have to be creative so it is affordable," Southall said. "A lot of times, we spread the treatment over time."

Dental insurance "is not like catastrophic medical insurance," Southall said. "Think of it like a coupon. Everyone deserves to know their options. I don't want to let the insurance company dictate what kind of treatment you get."

Dr. Charles Mayo argued that preventative dentistry could add 10 years to a human life. "If you keep most of your teeth, you live longer than people in dentures," Southall said. "There are a lot of correlations between a healthy mouth and a healthy body."

Southall, who studied accounting and business as an undergrad, was drawn to dentistry because "I love detail. I also love being around people, interacting. And I needed to feel like I was doing something to help somebody."

The brand new office is digital, has TVs on the ceiling for patients to watch, medical-grade vinyl floors that look like walnut, and spectacular views of the Catalinas.

Southall has one employee, Lyn Mieler, with 20 years experience in the dental field. She serves on the front desk and as his assistant. He plans to have a full-time assistant and a hygienist as the practice grows. Southall works two days a week on the Pascua Yaqui reservation, supervising two residents in a clinical setting.

Economically, "it's not the best climate to be starting a new business," Southall allows. "But we really believe in what we're trying to do. Treat people the way I'd like to be treated, there's a market for that. Treat people with respect and compassion."

Southall and his wife Audra have one child, Courtney, who is 5.

(Editor's Note: Southall has recently sold the practice.)

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