April 2011

Dr. Liz Shelly

Author: David Gignilliat | Photographer: John Brackett

It was a Friday, Dr. Elizabeth Shelly’s scheduled day off, but somehow she found herself at the office. A dentist at Palmetto Dental Arts in Bluffton, she had a morning meeting with a magazine reporter.

After the interview was over, a client sat patiently with his wife in the waiting room, in obvious pain and needing assistance. Shelly wrapped up the interview, quickly shifted gears and greeted the patient in the spacious waiting room. Sure, it was her day off, but a patient needed her help, and she was glad to oblige. All in a day’s (off) work for client-centric Shelly, who joined Palmetto Dental Arts in June, 2009.

“I try to make sure that I go above and beyond with customer service,” said Shelly, who practiced dentistry on Hilton Head Island for 22 years before joining Dr. Brian Smith at Palmetto Dental Arts. “Knowing a client when they walk in the door, saying ‘hello’ when they walk in… There’s no glass [divider] there for a reason.”

Shelly continued, “I hate that feeling when you walk into any kind of professional office—I’ve had this happen to me—when the employee behind the glass taps on the clipboard, gestures for you to sign in and hands you some paperwork,” said Shelly, who focuses her practice on restorative dentistry. “And it’s so ‘You’re not a person’ or ‘You’re not important.’ One of our goals is to make people enjoy coming here. And we get that type of compliment all the time.”

Shelly emphasizes patient education in her practice. A client needs to be as concerned with what’s going on in their mouth as much as the dentist, she believes.

“Our exams are very co-diagnostic,” she said. “We’ll sit with you, and we’re both talking about what we’re finding through the course of the initial examination. And the ideal thing, in my mind, would be for the patient to say, ‘Well, how do we fix that?’ Then, they’re part of the solution,” said Shelly, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs and studied dentistry at Northwestern Dental School. “You understand that there is a problem, and you want to fix it. So a great part of our exam is about education, about why you might need something done.”

The collaborative approach means that patients have Shelly’s full attention. And her calm, unhurried bedside manner helps to put clients at ease.

“I’ll usually spend half an hour with a new patient, and longer if there are a lot of issues,” Shelly said. “I feel that time upfront is very worthwhile, so that everybody gets to the point where I know what they want, and they know what we can offer them.”

When Shelly first started working on Hilton Head Island in 1987, there were 13 dentists in all of Beaufort County. By the time she left, there were nearly that many just in the greater Main Street business community where her practice was located. After careful consideration, she decided that the population boom in other parts of Beaufort County might be an opportunity for growth.

“Bluffton seemed like it presented a great opportunity,” said Shelly, who had known Smith for many years before joining his practice. “It’s been a year and a half here, and it’s really going well, so I just want to continue to grow with new patients”

Shelly believes dentistry should be done systematically, with an eye toward total mouth health. That means addressing the root of the problem and not just the immediate symptoms.

“We do everything here with the concept of complete dentistry in mind,” said Shelly, who pursued post-graduate education at The Dawson Academy in St. Petersburg, Fla. “In other words, the joints, the muscles and the teeth are all part of one system. So, if you’ve got stuff going on in the rest of that system that is not stable, you can put whatever you want in your mouth, and it’s not going to hold up very well.”

One of the innovations Shelly offers her clients is CEREC (short for “ceramic reconstruction), a dental restoration approach that uses sophisticated computer-assisted mapping and design technologies. A camera takes a digital image of the tooth, tells the equipment its specs, and the permanent crown is milled out of a small ceramic block while a patient waits. Only a handful of area dentists have this unique technology, which eliminates the need for impressions, temporary crowns and a subsequent visit to remove the temporary and bond the permanent crown. With CEREC, the process is completed in a single visit, saving time, conserving the structure of the tooth and giving the patient a natural, tooth-like look.

“It’s all one day, one visit. Patients absolutely love it,” said Shelly, who estimates the entire process takes about 2.5 hours. “But you’re not just sitting there with your mouth open the whole time. You’re reading a magazine, doing your Blackberry or whatever you want to do while the crown is being made on-site.”

When not in the office, Shelly likes to have a little fun out on the open road. A mother of two, she is the proud owner of two Harley Davidson motorcycles, a deuce and a Road King, vehicles she uses to blow off a little steam when her busy schedule allows.“Yeah, that’s my therapy,” she confided, smiling when talking about her pair of rides. “Yeah, I know, I’m spoiled.”

Palmetto Dental Arts, P.A. is located at 347 Red Cedar Street, Building 400, off the Bluffton Parkway. To schedule an appointment, call (843) 815-6500. Or for more information, visit palmettodental.com.

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