My Story

In Spotlight by Dental Entrepreneur

We’re just under two years into our start-up, but our journey is far from over! We are the owners of Commonwealth Dentistry, a private practice dental office in Lexington, Ky., and we fooled someone into letting us on the cover of Dental Entrepreneur.  

We are Dr. Matt Pelais and Dr. Tyler Bolin. Dr. Pelais completed his undergraduate education at the University of Virginia and his dental education at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Dr. Bolin completed both his undergraduate and dental education at the University of Kentucky. We met while completing a two-year general practice residency at UVA after graduating dental school in 2013 and quickly saw our values and goals aligned. So, what better way to continue that journey than to start our own dental practice from the ground up!?

It’s not often you see a start-up dental practice in today’s dental environment, but we saw an opportunity and went all-in. We began our business venture talking to countless mentors and surrounding ourselves with people who have taken on similar challenges while we were finishing our residency program. We sought opinions in every direction on how to do what we wanted to do and quickly learned there was more than one way to reach our goal. The same route is not right for everyone. We learned from others’ experiences … the good and the bad … and we’ve had plenty of our own good and bad along the way.  

While we formulated our business model for Commonwealth Dentistry, we went to the Graduates of the Last Decade (GOLD) Program at the Hinman meeting in 2015. It was at this meeting in the elevator of our hotel that we met Anne and Tom Duffy and explained our vision and our path that had led us to this point. Since then, Anne has kept up with us and followed our practice from the beginning, well before our grand opening in January 2016. She told us if we had a story worth telling, she would feature us in Dental Entrepreneur! Well, here we are rounding the two-year mark of Commonwealth Dentistry, and we tricked her into including us in this very issue. So before we go any further, thank you for reading our story.  

We have learned a ton from our experience, and our goal is to share that knowledge and promote the benefits of keeping dentistry in the hands of dentists!

We hope you will learn the following from the remainder of our ramblings:

  • First, we want everyone to know that owning your own practice is still possible, even in this age of large corporate dental offices. 
  • Additionally, we want to acknowledge that there will be challenges, but if you maintain your vision and simply treat people how you want to be treated, success will follow. 
  • Finally, every path is unique with its own set of ups and downs. If you have a well-thought-out plan and stick with it, you will persevere!

That first point is probably the most overarching remark in this article. Yes, it is still possible to own your own practice, even as a young dentist or a recent graduate. There are a lot of obstacles to starting a practice from scratch or acquiring an existing office. Many times, there may be even more tempting and more immediately financially-rewarding options, but we are here to encourage you to own up and be your own boss.  It may take some creativity and thinking outside of the box to determine how you can make it work. Owning a practice has been one of the most challenging experiences of our lives, but it has also been the most rewarding. We are still in the infant stages of our business, having only been operating just shy of two years now. So far, it has been a blast. We love showing up to work everyday. We love working with our team, we love meeting our new patients and we love growing with our established patients. It has been extremely rewarding in just a short period of time.

The second point we mentioned is simply the Golden Rule. Treat people how you want to be treated. When we decided on a location for our office, we picked probably one of the most saturated markets in Kentucky. Many people told us we were crazy to open in Lexington, and most people told us to move into some of the smaller surrounding counties where the market was less saturated. Maybe we are poor businessmen and maybe we are naïve, but we believed that if you simply treated people right, the business would take care of itself. We wanted to worry about our patients, not our numbers. One mentor told us there were definitely enough dentists in Lexington, but you could never have enough GOOD dentists in Lexington. That resonated with us and kept our motivation alive to follow the Golden Rule. We have stuck with that and find we are much better when we are worrying about our patients more than the numbers. And when you treat people right, everything tends to take care of itself!

Finally, there is managing the stresses of business ownership. When we say do not worry about the numbers, we may be slightly kidding ourselves. It is impossible to ignore. There will be highs and lows with any business venture you take on, especially a start-up. It is easy to feel on top of the world when you have your highest producing month, and it is easy to think your business is going to crumble after a lower producing month. You have to take everything in stride and keep a level head, as difficult as that is. You cannot let your emotions get too high with the highs or too low with the lows. Not to sound cliché, but life is a marathon, not a sprint. Always focus on the big picture and know that life is not entirely about where you end up, but how you got there. What did you do with the challenges that were thrown in your way? Did you rise to the occasion? 

We continue to experience many growing pains, and this journey has been a roller coaster ride for sure, but seeing where we are now, we wouldn’t have it any other way. We have made some wise decisions and some we’d like to take back. We have been proud of “past” Matt and Tyler and angry at “past” Matt and Tyler. We try to learn from each of these hoping that our next office will benefit and result in more of those wise decisions and less of those that leave us scratching our head.

We know young graduates are stretched with large debt loads. We know having a nice salary right out of dental school is attractive. There are pros and cons to any direction you take. But talk to your mentors, network with colleagues who are in positions where you want to be in the future. Be involved in organized dentistry, attend dental conferences, have an open mind and listen to everyone! With some creativity, you can formulate your own plan for practice ownership, and we cannot encourage you enough to do that. It has been an awesome adventure and we are so grateful that we get to tackle it with each other and share it with you. Have faith!

Matt Pelais, DDS

Tyler Bolin, DMD