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At 7-years-old, Dr. Bruce Hamilton found his calling, and it started with a terrible toothache.
The pain young Hamilton experienced was unbelievable, and his father took him to the dentist to get the tooth treated. Beyond getting the much-needed relief, the appointment opened his eyes to the world of dentistry.
“It was just amazing,” he said. “The initiation of the anesthetic that made the pain go away and then also the removal of the tooth. It was just so fascinating where they kind of linked the science – which I was always a science type of child – with the compassion the dentist had to help someone.”
These days, Hamilton is not only a dentist but a business owner. After graduating from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 1997, he opened his own dental practice, The Centre for Exceptional Dentistry, 1825 N. Martin Luther King Drive, in 2004.
The journey to his dream job included eight years of school, a long commute, additional school, and more. But Hamilton’s desire to provide dental care to those in need has kept him motivated.
Before even applying to dental school, Hamilton knew he wanted to return to Milwaukee.
“There was a need for dental care for the underserved and underrepresented within the city,” he said. “And with my travels throughout the city, there wasn’t really any dentists that looked like me. I made a point to say I wanted to be a part of my community … to serve them with the gifts that I had.”
When filling out applications for dental school, he included that in his statement.
“I always tell people that Bruce is one of the most genuinely caring passionate people that I’ve ever met,” Brigid Jacobs, Hamilton’s wife, said. “He meets people where they’re at, and he engages them in a way that I’m not sure many of us do. He wants everybody to be their best, and he often times brings that out in other people.”
Jacobs is also the office manager for The Centre of Exceptional Dentistry. They met at Rufus King High School and married in 1998.
Although Hamilton returned to Milwaukee after graduation, he didn’t immediately work in the city.
Before he graduated, he was recruited by Midwest Dental, which at the time was a dental service organization. The group had locations throughout the state and for a year-and-a-half, Hamilton worked in the Sheboygan offices and lived in Milwaukee.
Despite the long commute, Hamilton considered the opportunity a blessing. It gave him the chance to practice and expand his skills, he said. After leaving Midwest Dental, Hamilton worked for Smileage Dental before taking a dental position at Quad Graphics.
While his time at Smileage Dental was brief, Hamilton learned that he preferred taking a comprehensive and preventive approach to dental care. To him, it’s important to educate patients and help them understand how dental care impacts their systemic health.
“I think we can change the mindset of how patients truly think about dental,” he said, adding that dental care should be preventative-based, not problem-based.
His time at Quad Graphics taught him about the businesses of dentistry and the value of relationships. Although he found the work fulfilling, Hamilton knew he wanted to do more to serve the community.
In 2003, he went to Las Vegas and received additional training. On the plane ride back, he decided this was something he could do, and in June 2004, the Centre for Exceptional Dentistry officially opened.
He wanted to be on King Drive
When it came to choosing a location, Hamilton purposely chose Dr. Martin Luther King Drive. He noticed that quality dental care often existed beyond the city, and he wanted to offer that same level of care within the community.
It is important that people in the community see people who look like them and can relate to not only their dental needs, but their social and physical needs too, Jacobs said. Responding to the community’s needs means listening to the community, she said, and Hamilton has always put customer-care first.
Hamilton got to work creating a business plan and applying for business loans. While he initially tried to buy an established office, none fit his vision, so he created one.
Today the practice has eight employees, including Hamilton and Jacobs. It is currently looking to hire another dental hygienist and potentially another associate.
Lennie Mosley has been a patient of Hamilton’s since he opened. Mosley, who had recently opened a flower shop called Perfect Petal after closing her nail salon, brought a bouquet to the practice to meet the new business owners.
She left with a contract to provide them with flowers twice a month – and a new dentist.
Every aspect of his business is exceptional, Mosley said, from the customer service to the cleanliness of the office to the dentist himself.
“What stands out most about him is that he knows his clients by their name,” she said. “He doesn’t try to pass through and not say anything … it makes a difference. He’s a good doctor and a caring human being.”
The fact that the waiting room is always full says something about his business, she said. He respects people and treats them the way they deserve to be treated, Mosley said.
“They’re very conscious about the place and the business there,” she said. “That’s why I keep going back and recommending other people to go. It’s amazing.”
For Hamilton, the biggest challenge is helping patients understand insurance and the psychology of dental care. Through educational efforts, Hamilton and his team empower their patients to take control of their health. Dental care is not a commodity, it is health driven, Hamilton said.
“We spend a lot of time educating our patients across the full spectrum,” he said.
“When we talk about exceptional dentistry, we’re not just talking about the actual physicality of the dentistry that we do but exceptional in terms of helping patients navigate through all pieces of their care.”
‘We saw the need, we filled the need, and we continue to do the work’
On their first visit, new patients sit in the VIP room and speak with Hamilton one-on-one, Jacobs said. It’s an opportunity for the patient to explain why they’re there, what they’re looking for and share past experiences and expectations.
“He’s really looking for those answers so that he can be the best dentist and partner in their health that he can be,” Jacobs said.
There isn’t any other dental office like this, she said, at least within walking distance.
“We saw the need, we filled the need, and we continue to do the work,” she said. “We still do the work to ensure that the practice is sound; that people know who we are; and that we are giving them special treatment. That’s my proudest moment.”
She added, “We started with zero patients when we opened the door, now we lost count.”
Hamilton believes that building relationships with patients has been the key to the practice’s success and has made it a fixture in the community.
“For me, going into the office is not going into the work,” he said. “Going to the office is going to hang out with my team and hanging out with patients that I’ve have had for many years. It’s not even work for us. It just feels like we are visionaries for the community, and we just happen to do dentistry.”
In case you missed it: Journeys: From the corporate world to baking entrepreneur: Alan Goodman’s story