Dr. James Burneson Today’s Dentistry – Achieving More Together

Today’s Dentistry, with its over 18-year roots in Ashland, continues to grow and expand its ability to “improve people’s lives” as Dr. James Burneson celebrates his 5th year at the helm of this pillar in the community. Dr. Burneson, or “Dr. B” as he prefers, is well-known for his warm demeanor and sense of humor. With a dedicated team that continues to provide quiet, gentle, excellence, he has cultivated a practice that thrives on inclusivity and a patient-centered experience. Today’s Dentistry provides treatment that encompasses highly technical dental implant surgery, and sophisticated cosmetic smile designs inside a family focused general dentistry practice. Dr. Burneson often tries to downplay his expertise, but he holds Fellowship status in two separate dental implant organizations, has been featured in dental consulting podcasts, is a Trustee at Large with the Board of the Oregon Dental Association, all while completing numerous hours of continuing education. Join us in this exclusive interview to uncover the heart of Today’s Dentistry, exploring Dr. Burneson’s journey, his vision for the future, the distinctive features of his practice, and why it stands as the ideal destination for your dental needs.

Hey Dr. B, speaking with you always gets me so excited about the future of healthcare, especially dentistry, thanks for spending some time with me today.

Well Shields, it’s truly a pleasure, the relationship with the LocalsGuide has been very rewarding both from a business aspect and a personal level. I’ve really enjoyed seeing how when we all work together, we can all achieve more than we even imagine. I think Ashland and our local community really understand this principle.

Over the 18 years of Today’s Dentistry, what moments stand out as the most rewarding for you and your team?

You know, I’ve only been leading this practice for the last 5 years and for me the most rewarding experience has been creating these wonderful lasting relationships with my staff, with our patients and the community. If you were to ask Traci (21 years at the office!) she can tell you all about the changes from Dr. Vargas and Dr. Marut on B street, to moving to our current location and Dr. Warr taking over in 2009, to now – I think she might say that change is the only thing that’s constant. However, I know that both she and Jill (19 years at the office!) would say that all the dentists have had one goal, and that’s to provide the very best for the patients.

My favorite moments are the joy that comes from knowing that we’ve made a difference in so many people’s lives. I really do believe that my purpose in life is to help improve people’s lives. That’s the reason we’ve decided to expand the office a bit and create a learning center for the dental community, and the future dental community.

It’s truly impressive that many of your staff have been with you from the start. How do you cultivate such a positive and cohesive team culture at Today’s Dentistry?

Yeah, that’s true, we have Traci, Jill, Mark and Brittany that have been with me since I started and have remained despite COVID, economic stresses, and even my incessant and repeated dad jokes. That’s not everyone I started with for sure, however, we now also have Sally, Erica, Tannia, Terri, Sky, and Toria! We now have three bilingual staff members, and that’s a huge blessing to our Hispanic community.

Our culture is based on the core values of: Fun (no surprise there), Mutual Respect, Clarity, and Continuous Improvement. This is what we strive for. Sometimes we fail at these, and we can hold each other accountable for that. At the end of the day, I hope we all know that 1. We each have a voice; and 2. We can be empathetic to one another. (Thank you Google, for Project Aristotle, and the $2B in research you needed to figure that out.) Turns out, that when you’re kind to one another, people do more for one another. Strange, I know!

Okay, we need to circle back, a Learning Center? Tell us more about this expansion and what that means for your office and the community.

There is a massive shortage of dental assistants in all aspects of the profession. From front desk, to clinical, to specialist assistants, we just don’t have enough people. When we talk about an access-to-care problem, it’s not so much that we don’t have enough dentists, it’s that we don’t have enough staff to run our offices at top efficiency. It’s been on my mind for a while.

During, and after the pandemic I noticed that the clinic next door was being used relatively little if at all. I started talking with them and with our landlord and developed a mutually beneficial exit strategy for the clinic with a simultaneous plan for a classroom for a dental assisting program that would partner with our office.

We’ve spent some time developing that space into a place that allows our office to expand our technology and laboratory resources as well as create the learning center we were looking for. Our first class was Feb 21st when we offered 2 hours of continuing education to Southern Oregon dentists on the topic of Cultural Competency, broadcasted from OHSU in Portland. Officially our new title is: The Learning Center at Today’s Dentistry. We are starting our advanced education in dental assisting program Friday, March 1st.

In Oregon, anyone can be a dental assistant regardless of their training. Our program will help take a person from an entry level assistant to an assistant that can take X-rays and perform more advanced procedures. We even have the capability to train on the most modern technology including 3D scanning, design, and fabrication of dental appliances. We are not a school, but a program that can help give assistants improved and refined skills to make their jobs easier and potentially be in higher demand with dental offices. Our program takes place on Fridays, when most other dental offices are closed, and the program fees are a fraction of the cost of other programs, with assistants completing the program in as little as 14 weeks. This means they can work at an office and learn at the same time. Terri Dean, our current office manager, has over 30 years of experience in assisting and previously taught at the RCC dental assisting school, will be heading up our assisting program.

That’s an exciting opportunity for the area! I can’t wait to hear more about this as it develops. Your practice itself has a reputation as a warm and friendly atmosphere. How do you ensure that your patients feel comfortable and at ease during their visits?

We do things a little differently. From the first visit we want to know how we can best listen to this patient. We try to spend time understanding where they are coming from, where they are presently, and where they want to go with their health, not just dentistry. Are they happy with what they currently have? Are there some underlying questions, concerns, or events that might dictate the order we do treatment? I think the biggest surprise to new patients is that we don’t plan on just giving them a cleaning and then out the door – we want to meet them first and let them feel our vibe and see if we’re going to be a good fit for each other.

After the first visit, it’s listening, listening, and more listening. Educating when necessary, but always remembering that a person “won’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Our goal, as I’ve said before, is to improve their life, terrifying them away with demands on what they “must” have done is all relative, and we like to defend patient autonomy rigorously. We present the facts, we present options, and patients are able to choose for themselves.

Let’s spend some time on the topic of dental implants. They’re a significant focus at Today’s Dentistry, am I right? Can you share the transformative impact of this service on a patient’s life?

You are absolutely correct! Dental implants are a great replacement for missing teeth. The success rates at 20 years are in the 90%’s. We love placing and restoring implants because it involves starting with the end in mind. I start out with an idea of what we – and it’s a “we,” not an I – want and take the patient’s desires of what they’re trying to achieve and work toward that goal with surgical precision and beautiful artistry.

Surgical precision is key to a great result because it’s the cornerstone to an esthetic outcome. We use surgical stents to provide exact placement of implants that avoid critical anatomy like blood vessels and nerve bundles. We know what angulation the implant will be placed from 3 different axes. We measure all the sites digitally with accuracy down to 0.2mm and verify available bone and bone density prior to placement.

All of this science, planning, and treatment pales in comparison to the ability to function normally again, or have confidence in your smile, or eat your favorite foods again.

Being able to chew food properly leads to better nutrient uptake in the digestive system, which leads to healthier patients overall. Most people think that missing a tooth is no big deal, but what if missing a tooth had a direct impact on how long you lived, or your quality of life? It’s something to think about for sure.

Surgical precision must require special equipment. What advancements in dental technology have you incorporated into your practice, and how do they enhance the quality of care for your patients?

One of my favorite things is to learn about all the new instruments and technologies available. The biggest change we’ve seen in the last 5 years has been the transition to more digital dentistry. We have cut down the amount of material needed for dental restorative treatment by over 75%. We have nearly eliminated the need for labs to drive around wasting gas to pick up cases because we can send them electronically. The turn-around time for lab work has been greatly reduced or even eliminated.

We use an intraoral scanner called an iTero to take photos and build a 3D model of our patient’s teeth. We have two in-house zirconia milling stations that can produce a new crown during same-day crown visits in approximately 45 minutes. These mills also allow us to create excellent temporary restorations, and beautiful esthetic teeth with terrific results. A cone beam computed tomography X-ray machine, or CBCT allows us to image our patients with 3D technology.

All these tools help patients get amazing, predictable results with less time spent in the dental office.

You mentioned smile designs earlier, how does that differ from traditional family dentistry? What steps do you take to make dental care a positive experience for both children and adults alike?

Smile designs come in various shapes and sizes. Sometimes a patient has teeth that aren’t aligned properly and are worn unevenly. Other times an older smile needs a refresh due to receding gums or new areas of decay. Any way you look at it, each case is superbly unique – which means each result can be individually perfect. Smile designs take into consideration the different materials and types of restorations, how long they’re intended to last, possible complications, and alternative treatment options. It also addresses if we will be using a dental specialist for certain phases of the treatment. The goal is a beautifully healthy smile that is functionally stable, cosmetically esthetic, and predictably reliable for years to come.

Family dentistry means that we can see all ages and all situations. We see patients that are shy young children turn into confident adolescents that enjoy going to the dentist. Teenagers that roll their eyes as I try to “speak their language” and get them to floss more come in frequently. Their parents even reluctantly come in for regularly scheduled preventive appointments. We even see adults cross into their 90’s with their original teeth! We work with caregivers to help our patients that have a few “forgetful” days, and we welcome new patients that have been scared to go to the dentist for fear they might be made to feel bad. We truly get to see some amazing and wonderful people every day.

Dr. B, you mentioned your team earlier, how do you know if a person on your team has what it takes to provide the level of care you’re describing? It seems like there’s more to it, what are you hiding?

I do hope that everyone on my team knows that I truly care about them. We’re human and we make mistakes, and I think that when we can all be vulnerable together, we can appreciate each other’s strengths AND weaknesses. “To err is human, to forgive, divine.” I know that I’m not perfect and I have strong team members that let me know when I’m driving down the wrong fairway so to speak. Accountability is crucial. If, as a team, any person can come up to another person and give honest feedback, and hold that person accountable, for something not being quite right, you’ve achieved an amazing level of trust.

Maybe that’s the special sauce, the trust we have in each other. While some people shy away from critique, I try to embrace it, learn from it, and grow from it. I’ve been told I’m too silly, the music is too loud, I’m not professional enough, I’m too professional for Ashland, I’m not great at listening – but I’ve also been told that I’m the “right dentist,” and I’m the “glad I found you dentist” I’ve also heard that I’m “just someone who gets me” or the “thank you for listening” dentist. Sure, we could get offended and become stagnant in a mucky mire, or we can choose to learn, grow, and blossom. As we develop this vulnerability, trust, and accountability we all get better together.

That really ties in well with what you said earlier about being in Ashland and “achieving more together.” When someone is ready for this level of dental care, and to form this relationship with you and your team, what’s the next step?

Shields, that part is easy, they can call our office and speak with Terri or Tannia and schedule a new patient experience. Everything we do focuses on improving people’s lives. We’d love to start that journey with them.

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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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