April 2010

More than a Tooth Doctor: Elizabeth Shelly DDS Takes Dental Care to a New Level

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Photography By Anne

When was the last time you got excited about seeing your dentist? For most of us, the answer would be “not in a million years.” But patients of Dr. Elizabeth Shelly say they actually look forward to their dental visits. What’s up with that?

Longtime patient, Sue Ade says it’s all about trust—trust that Shelly earns not only by demonstrating her finely-honed skills and dedication to quality dentistry, but through unwavering kindness and caring. Describing her relationship with Shelly as a lifelong partnership, Ade said, “This is a level of care almost unprecedented in today’s world. It’s very personalized…the kind of care you may have thought was lost.”

Bob Garver, a patient for over 20 years, concurs. Explaining why he opts to drive the extra miles from Hilton Head to Bluffton to stay with Shelly, who moved her practice last May, he said, “She gets things before they become problems. She’s bright. I like her energy and positive attitude. I’m just very confident in her.”

Shelly attributes her patients’ high level of loyalty and trust to the time she spends listening and laying the foundation of the relationship. “We’re not rushed,” she said. “The first thing we do is sit down face-to-face. No gloves. We talk about what your concerns are, what your problems in the past have been, what you want—all that comes before we lay a finger on you.”

People dread going to the dentist for many reasons, including fear of discomfort, embarrassment or cost, especially if they have neglected their oral care. According to Shelly, calming those fears is not about laughing gas, anesthetics or anti-anxiety drugs. Although she has all those tools and uses them judiciously, she insists that caring is more important than any technical thing she does. “The main thing is to take the time to find out what their little quirks and preferences are. Listening and caring—I really think that’s the key,” she said. Quick to praise her office staff, Shelly says their friendliness and professionalism also contribute to the calm, caring atmosphere her patients appreciate so much.

“No matter what your dental condition or the extent of your need, Shelly and her staff will work with you to make the necessary treatments as comfortable and affordable as possible,” said Ade. “When you are in Liz’s hands, fears just dissipate. You can relax, because she will make it easy for you.”

In addition to making her patients comfortable, Shelly says she’s “more than just a tooth doctor.” The key difference is the comprehensive approach she takes in evaluating and treating the entire oral and dental system, including jaw joints, gums, bones and muscles. “Without taking into account how they are functioning in that system, you can do anything you want to with the teeth, but it’s not going to fix the problem. You have to evaluate it all, or you might miss something that will later come back to bite ya!” she said—no pun intended, of course.

By building inside the framework of function, Shelly also ensures the durability of her work. “I can really feel confident when I put something in there, because I’ve taken into account all the things that impact whether it’s going to last,” she said.

As a part of Shelly’s comprehensive approach, she takes pride in keeping up with the ever-changing industry. Since 1997, she has participated in a series of continuing education courses at Dawson Academy in St. Petersburg, Florida, staying abreast of the newest and best equipment, materials and techniques. “I do mainly restorative dentistry—everything from the simple single filling to a full mouth rehab. All that extra training I have makes me well-qualified for someone who has a worn down dentation or a neglected mouth—missing teeth, bite collapsing… It’s a major undertaking to restore that, but it can be done really beautifully for good function,” said Shelly. “Quality is the word. I use quality materials, quality equipment, quality people, because it matters to me to do something right in someone’s mouth.”

Dr. Elizabeth Shelly’s practice is located at 347 Red Cedar Street, Building 400, Bluffton. For appointments and more information, call (843) 681-8166.


Dr. Elizabeth Shelly is now offering same-day CEREC® crowns. This crown is designed on a computer and milled out of pure ceramic while you wait, thus eliminating the laboratory step and the need for a second visit.

“Instead of taking an impression, you take a digital image of the prepared tooth. The software has about 33,000 examples of teeth—at least 10,000 for every tooth in your mouth,” Shelly explained. “You put in certain parameters and it brings up a proposed tooth. Then you fit it exactly to the space and the bite and the esthetic characteristics. It’s awesome when you’re trying to replicate. If someone walks in with a broken front tooth, they can walk out that day with [one that looks and functions] the same. Every time I do it, I’m like a little kid. ‘Isn’t this cool?’ The patients love it, and it’s a beautiful crown.”

Nevertheless, according to Shelly, the CEREC crown is not appropriate in every situation. “You have to know all your options—everything from a good old gold crown to the porcelain bonded to metal. And now there is a myriad of ceramic products. Keeping up with that is part of the continuing ed,” she said, adding that she concentrates on the very best product for the individual patient.


Dr. Elizabeth Shelly’s interest in dentistry began with a sixth grade science fair project on fluoride. She chose her profession and never looked back, she said.
Graduating from Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago in 1987, she moved to Hilton Head Island to begin her practice. Starting as an associate, she bought the business (Main Street Dental) in 1992, and worked there until moving her practice to Bluffton in May, 2009.

“After 22 years on the island in one place, to pick up and move was particularly scary,” said Shelly. “But it turned out to be incredible. I have a lot of loyal patients. They keep on coming, because they appreciate what we do.”

Shelly has two children, Zachary, age 20, a political science major at the College of Charleston and Samantha, 16, a junior at Hilton Head Island High School.
In her spare time, find Shelly cooking or riding her Harley.

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