Dr. Jeff Rhodes started his dental practice 26 years ago, as one of just two dentists with a pediatric specialty in Northwest Arkansas at the time. He purchased Springdale-based Northwest Arkansas Pediatric Dental Center, now called Smile Shoppe Pediatric Dentistry, in 1990 and the staff consisted of Rhodes and two assistants.
Since then, the industry has grown and so has his practice. Rhodes, a member of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class in 1998, opened a second office in Rogers in 2005 and changed the practice’s name in 2013.
Now, the Smile Shoppe employs three pediatric dentists and 20 staff, and in turn Rhodes’ position in the company has shifted.
He doesn’t work on as many teeth as he used to — although he still enjoys dentistry and hasn’t stopped altogether — and instead devotes much of his time to mentoring the younger dentists at the Smile Shoppe and training them in all facets of the practice, including orthodontics and cosmetic treatments.
The shift in priorities also means Rhodes puts more focus on serving as “culture keeper” for the business.
While the number and sizes of pediatric dentistry practices have grown significantly in Northwest Arkansas in the past few years, to Rhodes, the Smile Shoppe’s clearly defined core values are a key factor in its longevity and success. They include patient-first care, a positive attitude and the ability to “laugh hard and often,” he said.
Following the practice’s core values means never putting business ahead of patients, he added.
“If you build a practice that is purpose-driven with a mission to help families and children live healthy lives, I believe the financial piece comes around on its own,” Rhodes said, adding that the staff takes joy in interacting with patients.
Young dentists just leaving school have high levels of debt, so they might be tempted to join larger dental offices, Rhodes said. However, he believes the Smile Shoppe promotes a uniquely “compassionate” perspective on dental care.
“We see our role as partnering with parents to help them raise healthy, well-adjusted children. We want to be a part of their lives — and kids feel that,” he said.
Rhodes said his staff members “light up,” when, for example, the practice’s patients who are special needs children come in for appointments.
What some service providers might view as a disruption, the Smile Shoppe staff see as an opportunity to touch someone who is in need, Rhodes said.
He regards his work as a type of ministry. “It’s an expression of faith for almost all of us (at Smile Shoppe),” he said.
“We’re really good at the dentistry part, too,” he added.
And now, Rhodes has his eye on helping to influence the next chapter of the industry in Northwest Arkansas.
Rhodes believes mass consolidation in the healthcare industry, by and large, will come to the dental industry soon, and he wonders what the focus of these large systems will be.
“What’s that going to look like? Is it going to be focused on high profit or quality care?” Rhodes said. “My goal is to get a seat at the table and help steer the conversation, because I don’t believe those two things have to be mutually exclusive.”
Rhodes is from Dallas, although he visited family in Northwest Arkansas throughout his youth.
He earned an undergraduate degree from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, in 1984. In 1988, he received a doctor of dental surgery degree from Baylor College of Dentistry in Waco, Texas, and he earned a master’s degree in oral biology from Baylor University in 1990.
He is married to Joy, who works with multiple charities that help young mothers, and the couple has two college-age children.
Josh attends Baylor University, studying business and philosophy, and John is a freshman at John Brown University in Siloam Springs.
As a pediatric dentist, Rhodes stops seeing his patients at age 21, and it’s a lot like sending his children off to college, he said. “When you’ve been seeing these kids for 15 or more years, it’s like they’re a family member.”
Those bonds are the reason why Rhodes said he became a dentist. “I get to make relationships with kids and help them grow up healthy with beautiful smiles,” he said.