By Ron Donoho
Yes, of course Dr. Timothy Garofolo has a great smile! He’s a dentist. More definitively, he’s the founder and CEO of The Dentistry Collective in Rancho Bernardo. It’s a thriving practice and patient referrals are numerous. Business is going well, and he is looking to eventually expand to all four corners of San Diego County. Dr. Garofolo says there have been some difficult days along the way, but there’s plenty for this 43-year-old to smile about. Today, Dr. Garofolo’s place of work looks less like a dentist’s office and more like a 5-star resort. In fact, he calls it “a high-end model where you don’t have to pay high-end prices.” Dr. Garofolo is a native Nebraskan all the way. He received his degree from the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Dentistry.
Following graduation, he was accepted into a residency program at the San Francisco Veterans’ Hospital. It was in his work with the veterans that he developed an affinity for our nation’s service members, a sizable demographic in San Diego. It inspired Dr. Garofolo to create “Smiles for Veteran’s Day,” a program in which he and his team volunteer for a full day to work on the dental needs of men and women who have served our country, at no cost to them. “Some of the people we’ve seen through ‘Smiles for Veterans Day’ don’t have any other option for treatment, and it feels great to be part of such a good cause,” says Dr. Garofolo. The program came to fruition three years ago. Patients are brought in from various organizations such as the San Diego VA Hospital and the Wounded Warriors Project. This day of giving back now occurs annually on the first Saturday after Veterans Day.
In its first year, Dr. Garofolo estimated they performed more than $17,000 worth of dental procedures. The number doubled to $38,000 the next year and jumped up to $52,000 in 2019. The event included cleanings, root canals, and crowns for 52 patients. “When I was at the VA Hospital, I was just 25 years old. I had the opportunity to become proficient in all specialties of dentistry since we had specialists all under one roof in our clinic.” he says. “I also saw how important dentistry is to people. In order for vets to get dental coverage, they have to be one hundred percent service connected disabled. This means those who aren’t considered “disabled” enough, won’t receive dental benefits from the VA, which leaves them with very few options.” The stories he hears on the “Smiles for Veterans Day” are incredibly moving. Garofolo adds, “Some are homeless or living in cars. One veteran told me about getting a DUI, and how he was taking his life back six years later. He was shaking his head about being here in our office because he got pulled over at the exit right by our office – where he’d gotten that DUI.” Born and Bred in Nebraska Dr. Garofolo’s parents, both public school educators in the Omaha Public Schools system, in Omaha, Nebraska, had a strong work ethic and emphasized giving back to the community. Ron Garofolo was a high school architectural drafting teacher with a policy of never giving a grade higher than an A-. His reasoning was that students could always strive for more and never be complacent. Pam Garofolo was an elementary school principal who knew the first and last names of every student in every grade (which was around 500 students).
Her motto for facing problems was “It’s time to put our big-girl/boy pants on!” One of Omaha’s most famous residents is Warren Buffett. (Dr. Garofolo once landscaped Buffett’s neighbor’s yard.) The legendary business magnate and investor is highly visible in his hometown. In 1988, he founded the Alice Buffett Outstanding Teacher Award given to Omaha Public School teachers annually. Ron Garofolo was one of the first teachers to receive this award. Dr. Garofolo recalls, “They had a private dinner and ceremony for all the winners. Each teacher was awarded ten thousand dollars that was to be used for something other than their classroom.” Dr. Garofolo recounts that at the awards ceremony, Buffett asked each of the winners to say what he or she would do with the cash prize. “Some said they were going to buy cars, go on trips and things like that. When it got to be my dad’s turn, he said ‘I’m going to put braces on my kid’s teeth.’ That really showed what a selfless man my dad is.” The braces were an obvious need, and not just because he would later go on to become a dentist. Dr. Garofolo said, using a Nebraska expression, that “I could have eaten corn through a fence.” The fact that Dr. Garofolo became a dentist, however, was a bit of a shocker to his mother. In Dr. Garofolo’s self-published book, “The Dental Black Book,” he writes: “I had a paralyzing fear of dentists that was probably passed to me by my highly dental-phobic mother. As a child, I was kicked out of several practices for thrashing, kicking and screaming.”
“It’s all about doing the little things for our patients – who we actually refer to as guests. Dr. Garofolo“
He never forgot how much he hated and feared going to the dentist as a kid and quietly vowed to create a better experience for his guests. Getting the Practice Off the Ground Dr. Garofolo readily admits he was no Warren Buffett when it came to the business side of running a dental practice. After arriving in San Diego, he started working as an associate in a large, corporate dental office. He quickly realized corporate offices were not where he wanted to practice. “Corporate dentistry was void of any kind of meaningful doctor-patient relationship,” he says. “It’s all about add-ons and making patients pay more. The corporate model devalues what my staff and I try to focus on which is adding far more value than the patient is paying for.” After working in several individual dental offices, Dr. Garofolo could see the differences in the practices. He learned there must be a process in place and saw that the way you treat your team is how your team treats patients.
Ultimately, Dr. Garofolo decided to purchase an existing practice. Shortly after signing the lease, the landlord announced he was doubling the rent for the next year. The landlord then sued him when he moved to a new location. Already highly leveraged, he had to short sell his condo to pay legal fees. At the same time, he also had to take time off to recover from surgery on two herniated discs. Against doctor’s orders, he quickly went back to work, doing his job despite experiencing daily physical pain and being under the cloud of financial ruin. There was one month, Garofolo remembers, when he had to sell a coin collection to make rent.
One More Shot at Success Dr. Garofolo won the lawsuit four and a half years later, but at a steep cost. Facing possible bankruptcy in the fall of 2015, Dr. Garofolo summoned the fortitude to give his practice one more push. Aiming to reach a higher bar (Dad’s advice) he put on his big boy pants (Mom’s advice) and underwent a top-to-bottom attitude adjustment. Dr. Garofolo made the decision to stop hiring staff members and to start hiring team members. More importantly, he refocused the practice on giving patients the best possible experience.
“WORKING AT THE DENTISTRY COLLECTIVE IS MORE THAN JUST YOUR AVERAGE 9-5 JOB. THERE IS SOMETHING SO AMAZINGLY DIFFERENT ABOUT THE CULTURE AND THE DYNAMIC OF THIS COMPANY. I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A PERSON THAT LOVES GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY, BUT NEVER HAVE I BEEN A PART OF AN ORGANIZATION THAT IS SO WILLING TO DONATE THIS MUCH. I WORK WITH THE BEST TEAM, WE HAVE AMAZING PATIENTS AND DR. GAROFOLO IS AN AMAZING BOSS AND MENTOR. I FEEL SO LUCKY TO CALL THE DENTISTRY COLLECTIVE MY HOME AND I WOULDN’T TRADE IT FOR THE WORLD. MICHELLE, MARKETING MANAGER”
“The better we treated our guests and the more focused we were on their needs, the more loyal and supportive they became,” Dr. Garofolo says. “Guests started telling family and friends about what a great practice we were. That was the turning point. It was a lesson on which we’ve continued to build.” Sit in one of the chairs at The Dentistry Collective and gaze out at the view of a green grassy lawn that leads to an idyllic pond setting. It eases the mood for whatever service you’re there for: preventative dentistry, tooth extractions, implants, root canal therapy or same-day dental crowns. Indeed, the practice is a rarity because they design and mill their own crowns using in-house CEREC technology, which means you can leave the office with a crown permanently cemented in a single visit.
No going home with temporaries and having to come back yet again when the crown comes back from an outside lab. Plus, any adjustments can be made on the spot. “It’s all about doing the little things for our patients – who we actually refer to as guests, Dr. Garofolo says. “We treat them as if they are guests at our home.” Anybody can choose from a list of amenities that includes soft blankets, neck pillows, warm towels, headphones, bottled water, hot beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate), ibuprofen, decongestants and lip balm. There is even an office mascot – a French bulldog named Barnaby. He’s a certified Emotional Support Animal. Barnaby recently replaced Garofolo’s late longtime furry mascot, Karter, who had helped him through the dark days of building the business.
It’s also standard procedure for Dr. Garofolo and his staff to call guests after treatment to make sure they’re recovering well. Dr. Garofolo believes all dentists should treat every guest like they would treat their own family. In fact, these days his own dental-phobic mom flies to San Diego from Nebraska twice a year to get her checkups and work done. And it’s not just his mom. One of Dr. Garofolo’s lengthier Yelp reviews comes from a woman who flies from Charlotte, North Carolina, to visit The Dentistry Collective whenever she needs to go to the dentist. While that’s unusual, after seeing how different The Dentistry Collective is from all the dental offices most people have ever experienced, it’s not too surprising,
And apparently, many others agree. Dr. Garofolo’s practice has more than 190 Google Reviews and 125 Yelp Reviews with a perfect 5.0 rating on both platforms, making them the highest-rated dental practice in San Diego. For the Garofolo family, it seems dentistry has come full circle with a happy resolution and a bright and shiny future.
For more information or to schedule your next exam, go to thedentistrycollective.com or call (858) 257-3413.
They are “in network” with just about any insurance plan you might have, and they recently launched their own private membership plans to help San Diegans who don’t have or recently lost their dental insurance.
“I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THE DENTISTRY COLLECTIVE. DR. GAROFOLO IS AMAZING! HIS CHAIR SIDE MANNER IS SO NICE TO EXPERIENCE. HE IS FRIENDLY, FUNNY AND KIND. YOU CAN TELL BY HIS WORK HE IS SO METICULOUS. I LOVE THAT PART ESPECIALLY. I NEED A LOT OF WORK DONE BUT I LEFT THE OFFICE NOT FEELING OVERWHELMED. HE GIVES YOU A PLAN THAT WORKS FOR YOU SO THAT IS VERY ENCOURAGING. I HAVE BEEN TO MANY DENTISTS IN MY LIFE AND THIS OFFICE HAS BY FAR EXCEEDED ANY OTHER I’VE BEEN TO. I HAVE TO SAY IT ALMOST FELT LIKE A SPA EXPERIENCE!! AND THAT’S SAYING A LOT ABOUT A DENTIST OFFICE.” COLLEEN
EXPERIENCE THE REDEFINED DENTAL VISIT
$100 In-Office Credit New Guest Special
Call Today For Your Reservation 858-257-3413
What Is The Dentistry Collective Doing Now?
COVID-19 Protocols: At The Dentistry Collective, we have gone above and beyond the mandatory protocols and guidelines required by the CDC. Safety has always been a top priority at The Dentistry Collective! These are some of the COVID-19 protocols we have implemented. It is mandatory for all of our team members to wear masks and gloves. We are taking the temperatures of our team members & guests when they arrive for their reservations. Guests will be instructed to text/call once they have arrived at our designated parking spaces and a team member will be assigned to each guest to take their temperature, make sure forms are completed, and given masks (if needed), hand sanitizer, and gloves before entering the office.
Prior to any treatment, guests will be asked to rinse/swish with a solution of Hydrogen Peroxide and Chlorhexidine for one minute to reduce the amount of possible germs in the oral cavity. To limit the amount of contact, all forms such as treatment plans and receipts will be emailed, if possible, to the patient. Also, credit cards will be automatically entered by the front office team to limit exposure. During treatment, aerosol spray will be reduced as much as possible by using the DryShield high powered evacuation system which reduces over 90% of all aerosols. Surfaces & treatment rooms, as always, are sanitized between guests.
Membership Plans: The COVID-19 pandemic has affected hundreds of thousands of residents in San Diego personally, professionally, and economically in many challenging ways. Dr. Timothy Garofolo and his team at The Dentistry Collective recognized early on that there was a need for a program that would allow individuals to stay current with their dental care without breaking the bank. Dr. Garofolo and his team wanted to do their part to help people in the San Diego community who have lost their dental benefits. The Membership Plans that The Dentistry Collective created are customizable based on the patient’s specific needs.
The patients have the option to pay for the plan annually or monthly which allows flexibility depending on budget. Since the plans are based on a patient’s needs Dr. Garofolo recommends that each patient schedules a comprehensive exam with one of the doctors and then they will help them choose the best plan that will meet their specific dental needs.
Rachel’s Women’s Center: The Dentistry Collective started First Fridays, where the first Friday of every quarter Dr. Garofolo and his team make an impact in the community. For the first quarter of 2020, The Dentistry Collective chose to bring their dental services to Rachel’s Women’s Center. Rachel’s Women’s Center is a drop in day shelter for women experiencing homelessness located in San Diego, CA. The Dentistry Collective gave smile makeovers to three women from the center.
Our Community Affiliates:
• Wounded Warrior Project
• VA San Diego
• Veterans Of Foreign Wars
• Salvation Army
• San Diego Humane Society
• Rachel’s Women’s Center
• Toby Wells Foundation
• Charity Water
• Boys Town
• Indigenous ReGeneration
• National Wildlife Federation
Call Today For Your Reservation 858-257-3413
This article can be found in this months newspaper.