People First: An Interview with Dr. Brent Bailey

Dr. Brent Bailey has been practicing dentistry in Highlands Ranch, Colorado since 1984. He is a graduate from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry and is committed both to technical excellence and personal care for his patients. He is also the founder of LookUp2Him, a ministry that helps men and women to "practice the presence of God" by delivering regular text messages of Scripture verses. Recently, Jeff Haanen, Executive Director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, interviewed Dr. Bailey on what it means to be distinctively Christian in dentistry and how his faith impacts his practice.

Why dentistry? What led you to that field?

Well, my dad was a dentist. He was always really good about telling me to do whatever makes you happy. He told me that if digging ditches makes you happy, dig ditches—I didn’t feel pushed to do what he did. I also had a friend whose dad was a physician, and so I saw both medicine and dentistry. I went into undergrad undecided between the two, but I am glad for the decision I made. Medicine would have been fun, but I appreciate the freedom and flexibility when it comes to my schedule.

What is the biggest challenge of being a dentist?

To be really good at dentistry, the most important things is people. Specifically, the way you interact with people and the value you put on them is important. When you realize that everyone is precious in God’s eyes and you desire to put others before yourself, things change. You know that God is part of the decision process. You really have to listen to people… Definitely, the hardest thing is truly loving people. As a Christian, it’s always trying to treat them right and always placing them first. And I think doing that is why we are as successful as we are—people know that we’re out for their best interest.

What does it mean to be distinctively Christian in the field of dentistry? What is one key difference?

In dentistry today, the trend is to charge for everything with the changes caused by insurance. If you go to a hospital today, they’re going to charge you for every aspirin and every napkin that you use. However, in my practice, I try to do some things out of relationship and care for the other person. If people have something going on and come in, I’ll take a look at it but won’t charge them an exam fee. If I’m not actually working on the problem but just checking it out, most of the time I won’t charge them. That’s very uncharacteristic, but it comes back to your view of people. Of course, it’s a difficult balance between always doing things like that and running a business. But I want to view people as friends and take care of them.

Are running a business and caring for people ever in tension? Or do you have the liberty to do that at this point in your career?

I have the liberty to do that because it’s my own practice. My staff thinks I give too many things away, but my staff is taken care of. Everyone that’s been here has been with me for more than 10 years on staff, and that is part of taking care of people. The other aspect is being debt-free, which was an early goal for me. At this point, I don’t carry any debts, and this gives me the freedom to be able to give and to serve. This takes some of the stress away. Obviously, you can’t be stupid with a business—I can’t give everything away—but I feel like it’s a good balance.

What do you wish your pastor knew about your work?

Certainly, [I would like him to know] the heart of what we do. Technical excellence is very important, but technical excellence without the heart of service is empty. Both components have to be there to be really excellent at dentistry. If you have both the heart to serve people and the ability to do it, then I think you’re doing things right.

If you were to counsel a young dentist, what advice would you give about running a practice that is honoring to God?

We both know that it’s so easy to get caught up in systems. To me, it’s important to drop the artificial rules and be real. But often, people go into established areas and feel like they need to conform. They feel like they have no choice but to be somewhat unethical.

Does a franchise model require that in dentistry?

Well, the large franchises out there are all about business models. This is often where Christianity is very much at odds with the system. Many times business models puts the business first, which is the opposite of what a Christian would do. The business model asks how to make a business thrive, focusing on all the ways to charge people, whether they’re ethical or not. My model is completely opposite; I believe that if I care for people, God honors it and brings growth and stability. When hard times come, people come back because they trust you. This is a complete reversal, where your business thrives because you’re doing what’s right. In the other model, the people are a commodity; in the Christian model, people are first.

*Thank you to Alex Siemers for transcribing and editing this interview.