Dr. James Burneson – Today’s Dentistry Engineering Smiles and Improving People’s Lives

Now celebrating just over three years in Ashland, Dr. Burneson and his team are proud of the work and all they have accomplished. In this month’s interview, I spoke with Dr. Burneson about his commitment to excellence and carrying on the legacy of excellence in both the patient experience and beautiful, confident smiles.


Dr. Burneson, thanks so much for speaking with me today here in LocalsGuide.

Shields, it’s always a pleasure. I love that we get to spend some time every year connecting. This time is always a great opportunity to look back at how far we’ve come, see where we are right now, and maybe even think about where we’re going in the future. I’m a big believer in milestones and self-evaluation.


It was so much fun doing the webinars with you during the peak of COVID. I understand that you will be participating in the new webinar series. 

Absolutely! This is going to be quite an adventure. I hope that we can get a good group of our LocalsGuide regulars to get involved. Ashland is such a diverse and fun community, it’s great to hear from all areas of the community.


To begin with, I would like to thank you and your entire team for all the support you have offered to LocalsGuide. The insightful columns have always been a breath of fresh air and sometimes even a little funny. Your consistent participation and leadership in our community has been exemplary and I thank you for that. 

Thanks Shields! We really enjoy what we do here. My articles are a fun opportunity to be a little silly, bring up some things outside of the mouth. Usually there’s a dental component but sometimes you have to look for it. I think it’s important to be real and share things that I believe in. Sometimes that means there’s a religious tone, or a family story, or a feeling of kindness. It’s rewarding to hear someone say, “That topic really touched me,” or “How did you know that’s how I was feeling?” I try not to write too far in advance to stay in touch with where we are as a community and what’s happening now.


What have been some of your own recent personal projects and accomplishments?

Oh, this is super cool! I do like to reach out to the patients and the community. I began working with a few kids from the around town to build a LEGO model of Oregon. When finished, it will be the only model of its kind. It’s approximately 3.5ft x 2ft and is spectacular! The kids had a special task of finding the correct scale for the map; defining the borders; filling in the ocean; marking the top 5 highest peaks; and the top 10 bodies of water. Dallin, my 17-year-old, undertook the job of developing a 3-D layout for the map. All my boys have taken turns helping to add pieces and fill in colors. I’ll admit, I couldn’t resist and had to work on it a little as well. Here’s a picture of our progress. We’re hoping to have it done by the end of June. 

That sounds fantastic! Probably another story there in a month or two. How is the practice doing and what direction are you headed?

The last few years have been exceedingly unpredictable to say the least. From all accounts, I think we’re doing better than we expected. We’ve managed to steadily improve the office. We have taken intense continuing education courses that have advanced the technology of the office to achieve faster and even better esthetic results. We’ve been working on procedural systems to help provide efficiency. We have learned that changes can be hard. Something I say, perhaps a little too much is, “there’s no growth in the comfort zone, and no comfort in the growth zone.” We are developing a new culture at the office based on core team values, and that can be a hard task. I guess the easy answer there is, we’re consistently moving forward.


Today´s Dentistry has always been very growth- and team-oriented. How have you and your team been working together to continue to raise the bar for the work you do together?

That’s a great question. We’ve been working with an outstanding consulting group out of Scottsdale, Arizona that has helped us define the systems that we use to help us achieve our goals. I recently read Atomic Habits by James Clear. He states it really well, “we don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems.” 

What he means, for example, is that we may have a goal of a clean house, and if we clean hard enough once, we may achieve that goal. However, if we want to live in a clean house then we need to develop systems that help you maintain that goal on a daily basis. We may want to provide excellent dentistry, but do we do that just with one patient and go home? Of course not! We want that same feeling, that same desire, and another beautifully engineered outcome every time. That’s the magic of systems.


Our office goals are things like patient experience, comprehensive care, consistent momentum, clarity, mutual respect, and fun. We can stop each other and say, “Wait, I need a little more clarity on that point” or “Does this treatment plan take into consideration where the patient will be 10 or 20 years down the road?” When we are free to hold each other accountable with a basis of trust, we can really move forward more effectively. I think our patients are taking note. 


Impressive! Dr. Burneson, let’s dig a little deeper, what are some of those core values that drive your practice?

I think when you may have asked something like this of me 3 years ago, you may have heard a different response. I think I said something like “lifetime care.” Which really hasn’t changed, but over the last two years I really spent time going deeper into that. I can say, unequivocally, that what gets me up in the morning is the idea that I can improve someone’s life that day. Improving People’s Lives 


It’s my personal “why.” I believe that everything I do, at home, at work, at church, for fun, is helping to improve people’s lives. I obviously hope I improve my patient’s overall dental health, and possibly some systemic health issues as well. This core value for me transcends work, I hope my staff keep improving, I hope my family keeps improving, I hope my community keeps improving. I’m a little cog in a great machine, and I hope I can keep on spinning for a long time. 


Improving People’s Lives is something I say almost every day. The way I help people improve their lives is by finding the simplest, most efficient, and most predictable outcomes. Ultimately this culminates in a relationship with my patients built on trust. They know that I’m here to provide comprehensive, long-lasting treatment. They know I’ll be around, and I know they’ll talk to me about where they want to go. 


How are you meeting the patient’s needs and expectations while still staying true to your own values and balancing all the different aspects of running a busy practice?

Ooh… two heavy questions. Ok, first, let’s talk about what happens when a patient’s needs aren’t met. Ya know, it doesn’t happen often, but sometimes a patient doesn’t fit with our office. Maybe we’re too silly, or have too much fun, or they don’t understand that we are devoted to treating others with mutual respect, or they don’t have a desire to have personal continuous improvement. While we understand that, we know we’re not the right place for everyone. That’s ok! Some people like VWs and some people like Porsches. I get it. 


From the first visit, we try to establish a relationship of trust. Our initial exams have gotten a bit longer, and they now provide additional time to find out about the person behind the smile. It’s as much an interview for me to be their provider as it is for them to be a patient. This goes back to our core values of mutual respect and clarity. It starts with an environment of open and honest communication where I do considerably more listening than talking. Expectations are expressed, limitations are noted, and wishes and desires start becoming well-developed comprehensive treatment plans.


Second question, when you own a dental practice, you wear a lot of hats. However, when you have core values in place, you can rely on them to give you the support you need. Whether I’m playing HR coordinator, janitor, maintenance, or smile engineer, I can rely on my team to be there to give good advice, help out, and back me up. My wife Emily has been a huge source of support as we’ve had a few team members transition to other careers.


I´d love for you to give a quick shout out to your team, many of whom have been with you for years.

We really do have an amazing team. When you are able to focus around a common core value system, it strengthens the bond of our team members and the office culture. Traci and Jill have been at the practice for over 15 years. We have new team members and old team members, and somehow we all seem to be a big family. Mark, Rachelle, and Sally are the rest of the hygiene team, while Brittany, Terri, and Erica are the assisting crew. Tannia and Terri run the front desk and manage the office respectively. Last and certainly not least – Danny, Dallin, Darren and Emily, my family, all do more than their fair share of pitching in and coming to the office late with dad, or having a date night of reconciling our accounts. 


Dr. Burneson, please tell us about your in-office dental plan. What is it and how does it work?

The basic idea is that if you don’t have dental benefits (insurance), but you’re committed to being our patient, we appreciate that relationship and want to reward you with a discount for your treatment. 


The real benefit is that patients get to have the conversation and the decision for their care one-on-one with their provider. They get to be the author of how their smile turns out and ultimately what treatment they would like to have. I’m just the publisher. I get it out so people can see it! Many times insurance benefit plans indicate a limitation, or a waiting period before benefits can be used. Nearly always there’s a maximum benefit they will cover. Not with our plan! If you’re in need of six crowns now, we can do six crowns now and restore that smile! 


Our plan provides the freedom of an immediate benefit to the patient and keeps them at the best level of health. We’ve even managed to develop a partnership with a company that will help maintain our plan and allow a monthly payment system instead of a large yearly premium. So, for sometimes less than what you’re paying for your work plan, you get your freedom and the ability to make your own choices for your health. That’s what membership in the Today’s Dentistry plan means. Woot! (It’s awesome though)

Dr. Burneson, would you mind reviewing your scope of practice and discussing your ideal patient? I understand that you and your team like to have a good time doing what you do and this isn’t always the best fit for everyone.

You know how there are people who protect their smile? They’re easy to spot because they cover their mouth when they laugh, or always have a closed smile in pictures because they’re worried about what someone will say or see? Those people need to be our patients. We are an expanded general dentistry office concentrating in cosmetic renovations, implant placement surgery and restoration, and Invisalign clear aligner orthodontic therapy. We see children, adults, and experienced adults. Our best patients communicate what they hope to accomplish with their smile and value comprehensive dentistry that results in fewer trips to the dentist because once they’ve restored their smile, all they need to do is maintain it. We love working with patients to restore confidence, brighten and align smiles. We focus on preservation, restoration, and renovation.


Would you mind sharing a few of your recent success stories with us?

Sure! I’ll change the names up a bit, but we’ve had several excellently beautiful smile design cases recently. The first one was a gentleman that was a very heavy tooth grinder. Over time his teeth had deteriorated sufficiently that he had lost the natural height his teeth originally had. We decided on a plan that would restore his smile and allow him to immediately have renewed confidence. It turned out fabulous. You can see the pictures here.

Another case began with the end in mind. We digitally planned the shape and location of the crowns. This allowed us to skip the orthodontic phase, which saved a considerable amount of funds, and finish the case with a predictable, beautiful result. 

Here are the computer screens of the plan. 

Probably my favorite case has been a young woman who had been anticipating a replacement for a congenitally missing front tooth for years. After careful evaluation we explained that an implant was not an option due to the lack of bone present. We tried to maintain the prosthesis she had worn for all that time, but it was simply too old and worn out. We made a new prosthesis that incorporated a conservative plan with a beautiful esthetic result. When we delivered it to her, and she saw it for the first time, there were some ugly cries from me, and happy cries from her. It was such a joyful experience. I hope that all patients get that kind of confidence boost at some point in their life. 


Dr. Burneson, how is your family and what are some of your next out-of-the-office personal adventures or goals you have set for yourself?

The boys are all getting bigger! We have some future missionaries planning to leave in the next year. Darren is thinking more and more about golf. Emily dives into family history and genealogy regularly, and I enjoy audiobooks and drives around in my little gas-saving sports car. It’s my first Subaru! I’m almost part of the PNW club!


We’re going to have a lot of fun this summer starting with some rafting and cycling. It’s going to be a busy summer!


What has been some of the best advice you have received in your life and why?

The first thing that comes to mind when I get asked this question is a talk I heard about 20 years ago. The speaker gave a story about a particularly hard experience that he had while moving his family across the country to attend graduate school. The car had broken down and he was left to walk back to the nearest town for help. As he recalled the event, he noted what he would say to himself if he had the opportunity to speak to his younger self on that desert road. “Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. It will be alright in the end. Trust God and believe in good things to come.” -Jeffrey R. Holland


It’s no secret I’m a firm believer in God. I’m far from perfect, but I guess that’s why I’ve decided to improve people’s lives, including my own. I want to be better, a little more every day. My faith in a God that will forgive my mistakes gives me hope to continue on, to try harder every day. Although I’ve only met the person who gave that quote once, it has proved to be a very defining interaction. I’ve heard it said that the difference between those who are good, and those that reach mastery is your ability to keep going when things go wrong. During the bad times. During government shutdowns and ever-changing healthcare policies and mandates. The ability to keep on going despite these things is when you reach the mastery level. That’s where I feel at home, when I’m continuously striving.


Dr. Burneson, I know there is so much more to talk about. What is the question I forgot to ask you?

I love this question. I’ve actually started talking to my patients the same way. I say, “I’ve seen you a few times. Is there anything about your smile that you have wanted to talk to me about?” I just like having that conversation. It opens up new doors and allows people to let it all out sometimes. 


Finally, are there any last thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?

Brush • Floss • Rinse • Repeat


Thanks again for talking with us here today and as always for your great support of LocalsGuide.

Always a pleasure Shields!


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Today’s Dentistry

1530 Siskiyou Blvd


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Dr. James Burneson

Our practice is working together to realize a shared vision of uncompromising excellence in dentistry.

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