In this episode, Dr. Elizabeth Ho with Grace Dental of Florida joined us to share more about her practice and her background! Dr. Ho spent 12 years serving in the Air Force as a dentist while traveling all over the world and continues to serve in the Air Force Reserves while running her practice here in Palm Harbor, Florida. Her experience in the Air Force has helped shape the way she runs her practice, Grace Dental of Florida, which is located right her in Palm Harbor. Listen in as we discuss Dr. Ho’s experience and how she has been successful in running her practice during COVID 19.
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Dr. Elizabeth Ho | Grace Dental of Florida
In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Elizabeth Ho with Grace Dental of Florida right here in Palm Harbor, Florida. I’m super excited to see what Dr. Ho is all about and learn more about her business. She spent twelve years in the Air Force and still continues to serve in the Air Force Reserve while she runs her practice as well. We want to thank her for her service and appreciate all that she has given back to our country.
Speaking of giving back, she has taken everything that she has learned in the Air Force and her experience traveling all over the world and transitioned that into her business and how her business operates. She’s a great addition to the Palm Harbor community. I’m super excited to sit down with Dr. Ho and learn more about her story, background, and business. Let’s jump right into it.
We have Dr. Elizabeth Ho from Grace Dental. Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us and speak with us. Tell us a little bit about who you are and who Grace Dental is. Let’s start right there. Tell us a little bit about Grace Dental.
Thanks for having me on here, Donnie. My name is Elizabeth Ho and I took over a dental office here in Palm Harbor. That was back in March 2020, right when COVID hit. It was good timing for us on our side. It was a blessing in disguise where we got to learn the business side of things because I am a first-time business owner. I’ve been in the Air Force all this time.
I’m still serving in the Reserves. This is something that we, my husband and I, wanted to try to do. I did try working at some other dental offices, but it wasn’t quite the right fit for us. We said, “Let’s go ahead and try doing this business thing.” Here I am. It’s a small office, but we are here to serve our community and help. That’s why we’re here.
Tell us a little bit more about Grace Dental. In your mind, what separates you from other dental offices?
I’ve been in the Air Force working as a dentist all this time. I’ve had the luxury of never dealing with finances or talking about money as far as patients’ care goes. I was able to tell the patients all of their treatment plans and choices. They would make the decision not based on finances. I want to do that here as well and I do that here. Finances are an issue. We try to work with patients as best as possible to maximize their insurance benefits and work out financially how they can choose their treatment plan. There’s no pressure. We are big on educating the patients on what’s best for them. We want to tell you about all your options and then let you decide and pick what’s best for you.
With so much information available on the internet, technology, and everything, that’s what everybody is looking for, not just with your dentist but in anything that you do. You’re trying to gather as much information as you possibly can. It’s good that you do that. I want to go back to your time in the Air Force and what that was like. What made you decide to practice to be a dentist in the Air Force? How did all that play out?
Back in college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It happened to be one summer before my senior college. I did an internship out in the middle of nowhere on a Navajo reservation. I had no car or TV. All I had was a radio. I decided I was going to go ahead and volunteer at this dental clinic on a Navajo reservation. I loved it. I’m like, “This is something that I enjoy. I like this.” I was a little bit late to decide that I wanted to go to a professional school.
Miracles later, we prayed and here I am. That’s how I became a dentist. How I came to join the Air Force is that they introduced me to all the different branches and what opportunities they had for me in dental school. I love to travel. I said, “This is a great way to not only do what I want to do, but I get to travel and see the world.” That’s how I joined the Air Force, serving the country and being able to do that in a little capacity. I got to see the big picture of what difference we can make in the military.
Thank you for your service. How many years did you spend in the Air Force?
It was nine years of active duty and I’m still doing the Reserves.
We appreciate that.
Thanks for your support. I appreciate that.
What is it about that moment when you decided that dentistry is where you wanted to go? What was it about the profession?
Look at the bigger picture and see if you could make a difference that could serve other people.
It was a little bit of the arts and science. It sounds a little bit cliché, but I like to serve and help people. I know you hear that from a lot of people, but my heart’s desire was to serve God in this capacity. I can help people in different ways in this career.
It boils down to helping people. This is the way that you chose to fill out that passion.
It’s making a difference and improving their quality of life. When you look at it, your mouth and teeth have a lot to do with everything in your life. When you have pain, it affects everything.
You can’t eat the right foods or the foods that you want to eat. Going through dental school, you were a little late making that decision to decide that you want to go to dental school. How did you get into dental school? What was that like?
It was miraculous. I freed my way in and applied the normal routine. I wasn’t as competitive as other candidates because I wasn’t preparing myself for professional school in all those years of undergrad. Miracles and praying my way in is how I got into dental school.
Did they have an interview process to get in?
Maybe that’s where you stood out in the interview. Dental school, in general, is pretty competitive, like being a vet med or doctor.
There are only limited slots and hundreds or thousands of people apply. You can only pick so many.
Do you know how many dental schools there are in the country?
I don’t know the exact number. Not every state has one, but most states do. It’s around 50-ish.
You’ve got your degree and you’re practicing medicine. You started being a dentist in the Air Force. What was that like? What was your normal day like in the Air Force?
My normal day was I threw on my uniform and went up to work at 7:00 in the morning. That’s how early we start. I was seeing patients throughout the day. Active duty, for the most part, is who we were serving. It’s making sure that they were dental health-wise ready to go and deploy at any point in time. That was our purpose.
What was that experience like for you? How has that helped you to where you are?
At the time, when I was a newbie or a little peon captain, I didn’t see the big picture of what effect I had. When I got deployed to Afghanistan, I saw the importance of how good we have it in the US and our military because we take care of our people. When I went to Afghanistan, a lot of the patients that I saw were coalition forces. They didn’t get that same dental care that we did as US citizens in our military. They would go over there with a lot of problems, disease, cavities, infections, pain, and swelling. I would help them there.
For ours, we won’t even allow them if they go over there with a small cavity. Before they leave the country and deploy, they’re good to go. That makes a lot of a difference because when you’re downrange and deployed in these types of situations and you’re in pain, you can’t function and do your job well. I got to see the big picture of how important dental care was, how blessed we are, and how well we take care of our people.
Going back to your love for travel and stuff, my wife and I also love to travel. One of the reasons we love it so much is because you get to experience a different culture and way of life. Even in the United States, traveling to different cities or towns opens your mind and eyes to different ways of living and experiences. That’s a huge part of traveling. It sounds like you got that through the Air Force.
I was very blessed.
We were talking a little bit about traveling. What are some of the favorite places that you visited in the Air Force?
I loved being in Korea. We had instant camaraderie, friends, and family because a lot of the people that were there couldn’t bring their families. We all lived in dorms together, so there were instant family and friends. It was a fun place to be. I loved Italy. Italy was beautiful and getting to see Europe because we were so close to all the other countries. We can drive or hop on a plane or a train ride during the weekends and be in another country. It’s so beautiful. The lifestyle there is a little slower. People enjoy life more. They take their time to be with their families and spend time relaxing, drinking their coffee, and not rushing all the time. It was nice. The food was amazing.
There’s fresh food.
They’re less processed.
We hear that compared to other countries like America. It’s like, “Let’s work and make money.” We’re busy. That’s the way we are. I wonder if there will be a shift into backing off of some of that or if some businesses can start something like that.
I’m wondering if COVID has awakened us to make us realize what’s important in our lives. Maybe this COVID pandemic can be a wake-up call for us.
It’s a blessing in disguise. The thing about it, too, is the businesses allowed people to work from home and stuff. That helps with some of that. People are possibly moving out of the big cities to live in places they want to live in and enjoy. I would love to see that. It sounds like we might be a little way out from that. Going back to the beginning of your career, what is one thing that you know now that you wish you would have known back then in getting started? Going back to before you opened your business, what’s something you wish you would have known then?
If I had known about the Coronavirus and the pandemic going on, I would have made a little bit of a different decision with taking over the practice right in March 2020 when we had to shut down. I’m thankful for my experiences. Even though it hasn’t been the most straightforward, smooth, and ideal, it was a blessing in disguise. It did give me time to learn things better so that I’m doing it better, especially when the business or practice gets busier. I’m more prepared and I can take care of my patients even better.
You took over in March 2020 and we shut down. How long were you not allowed to have patients come in?
It was until May 2020.
There were no patients.
When you really look at it, your mouth and teeth have a lot to do with everything in your life.
It was only for emergencies, which is limited.
What’s going through your head at that point? You’re like, “Is this the right decision? How are we going to make money?”
You’re like, “What did I get myself into? I have no idea.” I prayed about it one day at a time. God provides. We’re still making it through so far. We’re doing okay.
What things did you do during that time that you took advantage of to prepare yourself for when you got busy?
I was learning the ins and outs of running a business and all the things involved with that like accounting, insurances, and scheduling, so that when we are flowing more, we’re ready to go and we’re not going to have as many hiccups.
That’s good that you are able to take advantage of that time and be prepared. Here’s a personal question about your practice. What’s one of your favorite things to do? What’s one of your favorite things about being a dentist?
I love serving and seeing the results of the work that I do on patients, how it affects their lives, and how happy they are when they see the end result of things. Sometimes it’s not always the smoothest journey for the patient, but in the end, it’s worth the time and effort that we put into it. It’s like getting a makeover where you see its results or when you renovate a house. From the beginning to the end, it’s rewarding before and after in how much the patients enjoy it and how it affects them. That’s very rewarding for me.
It’s going back to making a difference.
It’s one tooth at a time.
Is there anything that you specialize in here? What do you focus on?
I’m a general dentist, so I do a bit of everything. The more complicated things I refer out. We do a bit of everything like crowns, bridges, veneers, fillings, extractions, and implants.
If someone is reading this, what are some general ways or things that they can do at home to improve their oral health and situation? What are some tips for that?
I tell everybody this. Brush and floss more.
Those are two simple things.
Flossing is not always fun to do. You get your hands all messy, but it’s important because there are a lot of bacteria that get stuck in your gums. That causes a mini infection. It’s what it is. It’s a mini infection. You have some inflammation going on. During COVID, some articles and studies have said that there’s an indirect correlation or linkage to you being more at risk of getting COVID.
It’s because you have a bacteria inflammation.
There are inflammation processes going on in your body. It’s linked to more people that have other diseases such as diabetes and other chronic diseases. There is an importance in maintaining your oral health. Your mouth is connected to your entire body. Not everyone thinks of it that way. There are a lot of things that can travel into your bloodstream. When you have inflammation and your gums are all swollen, there are bacteria in your mouth. We have more bacteria in our mouths than dogs.
Do dogs have cleaner mouths?
Yes, even if they are stinkier. Bacteria are traveling into your bloodstream. For those that have heart disease and other conditions, it’s not good for that. That’s why it’s so important to maintain and keep your oral health because there are a lot of things that are linked in that oral cavity to the rest of your body, especially your heart.
Why do you think it’s so difficult for us to do it?
Life happens. People are busy. The last thing you want to do before you hit your bed when you’re super tired is to brush your teeth and floss. You just want to go to sleep. It’s one of those habits. It’s a good habit to get into. Once you start getting used to it and doing it more, it’s going to be easier to maintain that.
Develop that habit and make it a daily routine, “Here’s what I do every single day.” There are a couple of more questions to wrap up here. If somebody is thinking about becoming a dentist, what advice would you give them to make that choice?
Do your research. There are a lot of different schools out there. You have to know that it’s going to be a hard journey, but it will be worth all the effort in the end. Don’t let the obstacles and things you may have to do while in dental school, like the tests, exams, and licensing deter you. If you think about that, it’s going to deter you and you’re not even going to want to go there.
What is schooling like? It’s a long journey.
It’s four years. You have to get all your prerequisites. Most people who go into dental school get their Bachelor’s degree because there are quite a few. Some schools don’t require you to have a Bachelor’s degree. As long as you have the prereqs, then you can go ahead and apply.
Do you need an associate degree or a two-year degree?
No, as long as you have the prereqs. Most people spend that time in college anyways. You might as well get a Bachelor’s degree. There’s an entrance exam. You take an entrance exam. There’s a max score but also a competitive score. It’s four years of dental school. If you want to specialize in something, it can range from 2 to 6 years if you want to do anything more than general dentistry and be a root canal specialist or an endodontist. If you want to take out teeth alone, that’s an oral surgeon, but they do quite a bit more. Oral surgeons can get a medical degree as well. There are different specialties or residencies that they can apply for after four years.
In eight years of school, you get your two degrees and then you’re able to practice dentistry. That’s a long time in general. For me, I got my degree, thought about pursuing another career, and changed course because I was like, “That’s enough school for me. I’m done. I’m good here.” You have to be committed to being a dentist or whatever profession that is.
It sounds like a long time, but it flies by. The one thing that I would recommend looking back now is to do something in business or take some business classes. The biggest part about being a dentist is being a business owner. That’s the other side of it. We had one hour of business classes in our four years of dentistry. When you come out of dental school, you’re ready to practice, but you have no idea about running a business.
The pandemic awakened us and made us realize what’s important in our lives.
Once you graduate from school, most dentists go on and work in another practice.
For the most part, they graduated and ended up working for another practice. A lot of people go to work at corporate dental offices.
If you want to, you can become a business owner.
You can do that. It’s a little bit harder to do, but it’s doable. Some do that.
There are some other local dentist’s offices around the area. I know a lot of dentists who have done that themselves. What do you like most about being a business owner?
I like that I am in charge of my own time. I can set the hours and take a vacation when I want to. I like that part and being able to provide a good solid place to work for my staff. They know that they can come here and enjoy working here. I’m pretty easygoing. I like that I can help other people in that way and provide some employment opportunities.
That’s going back to your big mission of being a dentist and helping people. The business owner is another side of that and another way to help people in the community. Dr. Ho, I appreciate you taking the time to speak with us. I enjoyed the conversation. I know there are going to be a lot of tips and value that other people will get out of this as well. Thank you.
Thank you for having me.
I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Dr. Elizabeth Ho. One thing that stood out to me was the availability of care that we have here in the United States, whereas if you travel to different parts of the world, that’s not always the case. Some people in this world do not have the option to even do something as simple as going to the dentist to get their teeth cleaned.
That’s not even a thought that comes up. Something that’s great to be reminded of and be thankful for is that we here in the United States can go on and get a service like having our teeth cleaned. I’m super thankful that Dr. Ho brought that up. Traveling is another way to be reminded of situations like that and things that we can be grateful for here in the United States.
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