Growing Real Life Dental to 38 Operatories Across Three Facilities

Dr. Damon Thompson, DDS

Dr. Damon Thompson grew up in the dental profession, helping in his father’s practice in Blacksburg, Virginia from a young age. “I was his wingman for emergencies, and I went on some mission trips with him,” he says. After his undergraduate work at Blacksburg’s Virginia Tech, and dental school at Virginia Commonwealth University, he then went into the United States Navy for three years to do his general practice residency.

“I came back to Blacksburg to join my dad and his partner,” Dr. Thompson says. “I was with them for eleven years as a partner, but was treated as a glorified associate. I grew up in that office, so perhaps my partner couldn’t get past the fact that I used to be a 14-year-old boy cutting the grass and here I was extracting teeth and having interactions with patients.”

In 2008, Dr. Thompson knew he needed to strike out on his own, and on his own terms. “Design Ergonomics helped me to design a five-op practice. At that point, I just wanted to keep it safe. Five sounded like a nice round number, safe! Working with the Design Ergonomics team, I discovered I really enjoyed office design. I admit I wore out the Design Ergonomics designers with my questions. Fortunately, they were more than accommodating.”

Real Life Dental exterior

Dr. Damon Thompson’s Real Life Dental

Soon Dr. Thompson was up and running with his own practice, and Real Life Dental Care was born. The practice was extremely successful – so much so that Dr. Thompson was forced to schedule appointments further and further out. “Within three years of opening my office, I was already maxed out,” he says. “I had to decide; do I go large? So, in 2015, I got back in touch with Design Economics and began discussions about a new twelve-op space. My vision was expanding greatly: more chairs and more space. Again, Design Ergonomics was instrumental in enabling me to create the space for us to maximize the number of chairs. I ended up keeping the original five-op office, too. I hired more doctors and expanded the team.”

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As part of the process of designing the two offices, Dr. Thompson dug in deep with the Design Ergonomics team. He wanted to understand the details of the design and the ergonomic aspects of his new dental office. He also realized that his dental office would be a reflection of his vision and his personality, and a great facility is among the best marketing and promotion that a dental practice can have.

“I give credit to Dr. David Ahearn, the founder of Design Ergonomics. He taught me the psychology of the dental office, the smells, the sounds, the sights,” Dr. Thompson says. “In our offices, I focused on the elimination of as many horizontal surfaces as possible, because we humans love to place things on horizontal surfaces. I really noticed the problems with horizontal surfaces when I visit someone else’s house or imagine going back to grandma’s house. You can imagine the dust, or there’s all these knickknacks, and it just looks cluttered.”

Dental Office Resupply

Visual inventory management and use of vertical space at Real Life Dental

Dr. Thompson clearly saw the importance of eliminating clutter in his dental offices, instead creating a clean and crisp workplace. “I became acutely sympathetic and empathetic to the patient’s experience,” Dr. Thompson says. “I want the experience to be memorable; I want them to be amazed and wowed and say: ‘This is not like what I remember going to the dentist was like.'”

Blacksburg, Virginia, where Real Life Dental’s first two offices are located is the home of Virginia Tech, an internationally recognized university that has about 35,000 students. It’s a cosmopolitan college town, with many people moving there for their retirement years, and the population is growing. Real Life Dental continued to grow.

“We created a Category of One,” Dr. Thompson says. “We have an almost unlimited number of new patients, because at the university there’s a lot of churn. There are new people coming in every year, twice a year.”

Real Life Dental is ...

Real Life Dental – Culture and Values are key

By 2019, it was once again time to create a new office, 21 ops this time, so Dr. Thompson called the team at Design Ergonomics. “I thought to myself, ‘I’ve done this a few times. I know a little bit more about what I want, and I could add more customization’,” he says. “I give credit to Paul Leonard, the Senior Practice Designer at Design Ergonomics who was open to me bantering back and forth about what I want. I would say something like: ‘how about a wall here’, take a photo and send it to him, and he would understand what I wanted. It was a great working relationship.”

Recruitment of new doctors and staff is an added benefit of a beautiful and highly functional facility, Dr. Thompson says. “I hear new people say things like ‘Wow, this is amazing; this is like Disney World.'”

Real Life Dental

Dr. Damon Thompson’s vision continues to drive growth at Real Life Dental’s three facilities

Now, Real Life Dental has 38 ops across three facilities with growth primarily coming from Dr. Thompson’s focus on vision and culture. “I’m the leader and culture starts with me,” he says. “I look for managers that have bought into my vision and into our core values. If somebody isn’t matching my expectation, then we’ve got to make a change.”

Dr. Thomson enjoys mentoring young doctors about their future. He prefers to work with ambitious people who want to venture out on their own one day. “I ask young doctors if they aspire to being more, doing more, providing more. However, I say, if that is not your vision, if you just want to do the work and you can’t wait to get out and go hunting or hit the lake or something like that, if you want to do the minimum, it’s okay to not go farther. But if you do have a desire, I would start with what is your vision? What would you like to be ten years from now? I coach those who aspire to be something bigger to avoid the metro areas. I tell them to find the fringe. Either you’re going to be a small fish in a very large pond in a city, or be right on the fringes where you’ll be a king or queen.”


At Design Ergonomics, we offer a wide range of dental practice design, renovation, and remodeling services ranging from improved inventory and sterilization, to creating additional operatories within your existing footprint. From capacity, to aesthetics, to work-flow, we cover all aspects of the dental office improvement spectrum. Speak to a Design Ergonomics Practice Liaison to learn if we are the right fit to create the ideal dental practice for you.