Patients, not insurance companies, should be the ones deciding how best to improve their dental health and to create a smile that they're happy to show off, asserts Spokane dentist Dr. Navi Virk. Also, he contends, they should be able to make those decisions in a comfortable, nonclinical setting, and to receive the treatment they need or desire in a one-on-one fashion that leaves them feeling rejuvenated and upbeat about the experience.
Those beliefs, Virk says, were largely what made him decide to open Davenport Smiles, a one-chair "concierge-style" dental practice located in an upscale 1,600-square-foot leased suite on the 22nd floor penthouse level of the Davenport Tower, at 111 S. Post. Virk is just wrapping up furnishing some parts of the suite, and although he already has seen a few patients there, he says he considers Nov. 1 the dental office's official opening date.
Davenport Smiles specializes in cosmetic and neuromuscular dentistry, but offers a full range of general dental services, Virk says. Cosmetic dentistry involves improving the appearance of the teeth and mouth, such as through the use of veneers and inlays. Neuromuscular dentistry, meanwhile, focuses on muscle and nerve interaction and involves placing the jaw in its optimal position to alleviate not only common jaw disorders, but also headaches, ringing in the ears, and neck, shoulder, and back pain. The goal of the latter discipline, through the use of orthotics and other treatment methods, is to improve the patient's overall health.
Of the patients Virk hopes to reach through his new downtown practice, he says, "The target is anyone in pain, anyone who wants a good smile."
Good dental health is important to a person's overall health, he says, but he adds, "If you can change the life of a person" by eliminating pain and giving them greater self-esteem through an improved appearance, "that is priceless. It's life-changing."
For now, Davenport Smiles is open just Mondays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Virk and "patient concierge" Denise Greene are the only people working there regularly, but he says he'll expand appointment hours and the staffing level there as demand warrants it.
Virk also operates three conventional dental clinicsin Spokane Valley, on Spokane's North Side, and in Kennewick, Wash., that altogether employ about 20 people, mostly full time. In addition, he says, he co-owns two dental clinics in the Seattle area with his brother, Dr. Bob Virk, who is an orthodontist there. Long term, though, he says he expects to make the downtown practice here his top priority.
Davenport Smiles certainly doesn't feel like a typical dental office. It features pricey-looking contemporary furnishings and an elegant, art-enhanced lobby with a cabinet containing various types of healthy beverages that the practice makes available to patients.
Its lone dental chair is located in an adjoining procedure room illuminated by huge windows that provide patients with expansive cityscape views to the north and west. A large flat-screen TV monitor mounted high in one corner of the room allows patients to view photos or charted data gathered during their examinations or procedures.
The dental practice, though, also has a separate, warmly furnished consultation roomwith its own large touch-screen wall monitor and specialized softwarewhere Virk says he prefers to take current and prospective patients to discuss treatment options so they can chat in a nonclinical, less intimidating environment.
Located in the center of another room there with north-facing views of the city is a computerized, medical-grade massage chair that's designed to provide relaxing therapy to patients. Virk says he is in the process of equipping the room further so that patients can watch movies or other video via a headset while the chair massages them.
A couple of other rooms in the suite still are vacant, and Virk says he expects to use one of them to display post-procedure photos of some of his patients. The suite also has a small lab area and an employee break room.
Davenport Smiles is set up to provide patients with singular attention from the moment they walk in the door, with one person treating them from beginning to end and no waiting, Virk says.
"The goal is it's one on one. When you're here, you're the king. It's something different," he says.
As for working with insurance companies, Virk says that at this office, unlike at his other clinics, "We don't submit anything to insurance. We give the paperwork to the patient and they submit it (if they desire to do so). I have taken the influence of the insurance companies and erased it completely. What's best for you should be decided by you, not the insurance companies."
The problem when insurance companies are involved, he contends, is that they require dentists to give patients the least expensive form of acceptable service.
"Rather than receiving the most effective treatment, patients are limited by the options that the insurance companies dictate. Their hands are tied," Virk asserts. "I'm always going to give you the best option. It's absolutely uncompromised dentistry."
That doesn't mean, he says, that he plans to "sell" his services, by pushing pricier procedures on patients, nor that they necessarily should follow his recommendations, if doing so would mean going against what they'd prefer to do. Virk says he derives an ample revenue stream from his other dental clinics, and thus isn't dependent on the revenue from Davenport Smiles to maintain his livelihood.
"This I'm doing for fun," he says. "It's the most optimal treatment, and price isn't going to vary." He declines to talk specifically about his fees, but says they'll be competitive with those charged by other dental practices here that work with top-notch outside laboratories, as Davenport Smiles does.
"I'm keeping it very reasonable. Eventually, my goal is to take it (the concierge approach) down to the masses," he says.
For a full smile makeover, though, he acknowledges the cost to the patient can reach well into five figures. He mentioned that one female patient of hisand not someone with a lot of discretionary incomehas committed to spend $30,000 to have extensive work done, which he's convinced will improve her outlook on life greatly.
Because of Davenport Smiles' downtown location and upscale approach, Virk says he hopes to attract businesspeople as new patients, but adds that he expects his patients there to vary widely in age, background, and income level.
Since some of the work that he does typically won't be covered by dental insurance, Virk says various types of payment plans are available for people who don't have the cash to pay for the work they have done.
Born and raised in India, Virk graduated from dental school there in 1997. He then immigrated to the U.S., working as an associate researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, and doing post-graduate work at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, until 2001, when he joined his brother's Seattle practice.
He says his brother was operating three clinics in the Seattle area at the time, but then "we kind of exploded," and the number of clinics the two of them were operating grew to nine in the span of about a year and a half. As part of that expansion, Virk came to Spokane in 2002 to open a dental office here, expecting to return to Seattle after establishing the office, but says he liked this area so much and found the people here so friendly that he decided to stay.
"Spokane just kind of grew on me," he says.
Virk's experiences in his conventional dental practice, he says, spurred his interest in pursuing a venture in which he didn't have to work with insurers. Often, he says, "I knew something was best for the patient, but the insurance companies weren't doing what was best for the patient."
Last year, he joined the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies, a post-graduate dental teaching center that specializes in training cosmetic and neuromuscular dentists, and he says, "It brought a completely different vision to my mindset. It just opened a new dimension for me" in helping people to overcome pain and improve their lives.
His more visual fixation, though, remains on smiling.
"The majority of the population doesn't smile. That's what we want to change for people," he says. "I want to have happy people all around me."
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