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This dentist makes patients smile

WHAT THEY DO: Family and cosmetic dentistry

LOCATION: 1400 Buford Highway, Sugar Hill

WEB SITE: www.magnoliadentistry.com

OWNER: Dr. Carla Thomas

EMPLOYEES: 4

PHONE: 770-831-0551

FOUNDED: 2002

Dr. Carla Thomas, owner of Magnolia Dentistry, had a keen interest in art, medicine and science while in school. She found cosmetic dentistry to be the perfect way to blend those three subjects.

"Art to recreate the smile or tooth," Thomas said. "Science is the physics and technology that goes into making the work last and withstand the conditions of the mouth. And medicine understands how the health of the mouth affects the whole body."

After graduating from dental school at the University of Maryland, Thomas joined a corporate-owned dental practice in metro Atlanta.

"It was a high-volume practice, and that was good, because I got to do a lot of dentistry," she said. "But I had always dreamed of having my own practice where I could spend time with my patients."

Thomas financed her dream through business loans, and she found patients by advertising and through visiting local schools. Dental equipment, skilled personnel and office space required ample loans to finance the endeavor. Still, Magnolia Dentistry broke even in its second year of business and turned a profit in is third.

Owning her own practice has allowed Thomas to indulge her enthusiasm for smile design, as well as practice family dentistry, like fillings and crowns.

"When considering how to create a smile, we look at the whole mouth, not just the teeth," she said. "If the jaw is not aligned or the muscles are pulling improperly, the teeth will break down."

Thomas compares her work to building a house. Patients get to see a model of their new smile before work begins through a prepared "blueprint." She creates a plaster cast that imitates the patient's bite, then she uses her artistic skills to redesign the teeth.

The patient wears a temporary structure for a short period to make sure the new smile functions well and the patient doesn't mispronounce words or bite his or her lip. The smile-designing process takes about 20 hours before work ever begins on the teeth.

RISK: "Taking on such huge debt," she said. "I bought all my equipment new and designed and built out the office space, so it was substantial. There was no room to pay myself a salary."

REWARDS: "I really enjoy smile design and cosmetic dentistry," Thomas said. "The first thing you notice about someone is their expression, if they are happy or sad. If someone is ashamed of their teeth, they don't look happy on first impression. I like to take someone who has done all they could to hide their smile, and see them leave the day their smile is completed. They are beaming."