Apr. 4—Dr. Kudzai Chikwava wants patients visiting his new Beautiful Smiles dental office to feel they're in a luxurious, relaxing, cosmopolitan space while still receiving the same reasonable prices and small-town, personal care they've come to expect.
"My vision is for patients to feel like they can't afford it, because it's so nice, then be (thrilled) to (discover) it's just like before" in terms of price and quality, said Chikwava, who spent several years in a modest space on Cleo Way before opening up his new office in the former Regions bank building on Thornton Avenue in mid-January. "In bigger dental offices, it can be very commercial, but I want to keep a family-oriented office."
"It's turned out really, really well," said Chikwava, a native of Zimbabwe who graduated summa cum laude with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry from North Carolina Central University before earning his doctorate of dental surgery degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry. For example, the sign behind the front desk "is a lot bigger than I thought it would be, but I love it, (because) it shows the elegance we're trying to (display)."
The consultation room is "the best part" of the new office, said Jasmine Suggs-Watson, treatment coordinator for Beautiful Smiles. Dental procedures can be very "emotional" for people, so "it's a blessing to have a space to meet one on one and talk about what they need or want."
Chikwava is dedicated to providing numerous options for his patients, so "they don't feel like they only have one, last option," said Suggs-Watson, who has worked at Beautiful Smiles for two years. "Some offices only give one option, because they do things the easy way, but nobody cares for patients the way superhero dentist (Chikwava) does."
"I've presented up to 12 options for one patient, and it can get kind of (complicated), but it's our job to help them understand," she said. "Talking through all those options makes everyone feel more comfortable."
The consultation room is "the crowd jewel" of the office, but Chikwava is also ecstatic about the separate check-in and check-out spaces, which attenuate wait times, he said. "I hate having them out there waiting."
Those who do wait can do so in an expansive reception area, which features multiple televisions, floor-to-ceiling windows that provide a view of the outdoors, a wall-mounted electric fireplace and a couch with numerous pillows.
"I don't think anyone has sat on the couch yet," Chikwava said with a chuckle. "I think they think it's just for decoration."
The foyer also boasts a technology bar, he said. When the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a concern, the technology bar will offer several iPads patients can use to fill out their information, instead of resorting to pen and paper.
"My favorite part is the lobby, which turned out so nice," said Sherrell Smith, the realtor for Keller Williams Realty Northwest who partnered with Chikwava to make his "dream" come true. "We wanted that entrance to feel like home, so patients feel comfortable."
Completing this project during a pandemic made it more challenging than it would have been otherwise, but J Brennon Construction, the contractor, did commendable work, Smith said. "We wouldn't have this building without them."
Smith specializes in helping medical professionals renovate properties to serve their purposes, like transitioning this building from a bank to a dental practice, she said. "We modernize it, and make it efficient."
Chikwava "had a dream, and we came together to make it happen," she said. "I would do it again in a heartbeat."
The new office has 10 treatment rooms, which is double the prior location, including a pair of rooms for oral surgery, Chikwava said. "We have two quiet rooms, for nervous patients, and in (those oral surgery rooms), we can control everything, including the lights, to get patients more relaxed."
The new office includes a sterilization room in full view for patients "so everyone can see we have no secrets," he said. "We sterilize everything — everything is clean — and if you ever walk into an office where the sterilization room is hidden, you should walk out immediately."
With the expanded office space, Chikwava is adding staff members.
"We're on a hiring craze right now," he said earlier this year. He's still looking to hire an associate dentist, a dental hygienist and an oral surgeon.
Chikwava is an ideal boss, Suggs-Watson said. "He invests in his employees, and there's room for advancement and growth."
Additionally, "when my mom passed, he became like a big brother to me, and he talked me through so much," she said. "I love it here, and I've never been more passionate about anything in my life."
Ever since Chikwava closed for six weeks last year during the pandemic's early days, "we've been playing catch-up," he said. "We're super busy," but still have room for patients, who can make appointments by calling (706)-226-9798 or emailing DRC@beautifulsmilesdentistry.com.
Beautiful Smiles already does "a lot of ortho, crowns and bridges," but Chikwava hopes to make his new office into "a one-stop shop" for patients, he said. "A lot of places refer, refer, refer, but (patients) don't want to have to get established somewhere else, or go to Chattanooga."
"I want an office where dad can go here, mom can go here and the kids can go here, and everyone receives quality care in a professional environment," he said. "I'm excited to offer more access to more patients."
"It's a blessing for me to help people here, (where) we tell you what's wrong, and we fix it," Suggs-Watson said. "We're here, we're making a difference, and that's what it's all about."
Since opening in mid-January, reaction from patients has been positive.
"They love it, (although) we're still trying to work out a couple of kinks with patient flow," such as communication, Chikwava said with a wry smile. "In the old office, I could just holler down the hallway."
Chikwava, who began his career in Iowa — where he was vice president of the Southwest Iowa Dental Association — prior to moving to Dalton in 2014, plans an official grand opening celebration, "maybe with a picnic or something," this spring or summer, he said. Due to COVID-19, "we want to have it outdoors, and we want the weather to warm up."
Chikwava's personal touches are found throughout the space, too, such as depictions of characters from Martin Scorsese's 2002 epic "Gangs of New York," which was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and the poem "Our Deepest Fear," which promulgates "playing small/Does not serve the world/There's nothing enlightened about shrinking."
The poem also notes "we are all meant to shine," Chikwava said. "That (poem) is my biggest motivation."