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The face of Aspen Dental
Dr. Chapel sold private practice to work for chain
Aspen Dr Web
Dr. Athena Chapel, who previously owned an independent dental practice in Pennsylvania, opened her new office in Statesboro last week as an employee of Aspen Dental Management Inc. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

A corporation operating more than 660 dental offices in 36 states, Aspen Dental has now opened its doors in Statesboro. Really, it was the experienced and personable Dr. Athena Chapel and her team who started seeing patients last week.

Chapel, of Greek heritage as her first name suggests, was born and raised in Philadelphia, where she attained her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree at Temple University School of Dentistry about 34 years ago. She owned a private practice in rural, upstate Pennsylvania for 32 years, until she sold it to go to work for Aspen Dental and move to Georgia.

"I had a chance to move out of the Snow Belt and I liked everything about Aspen (Dental)," she said. "I liked their whole concept of how they like to treat their patients, and it's all about the patient care and making everybody aware of their teeth and their health."

Chapel sat down for an interview Friday afternoon at the conclusion of her first couple of days seeing patients in Aspen's office in the new building at 412 Northside Drive East, across from Statesboro Mall. The practice opened for its first full day Thursday.

The dental practice Chapel previously owned was in Montrose, Penn., a town "way smaller than Statesboro," she said. In fact, Montrose is just a little bigger, population-wise, than Brooklet. The Montrose area also has a lot of farmers, but with dairy cows and no cotton, she notes.

Chapel closed her office there Aug. 10, moved to Georgia the next week, and the week after that was working at Aspen's office in Pooler. She and her husband Randy Chapel now have a home in Statesboro. They have two grown children, one in law school in Houston and married and the other living with his parents here while preparing to go to law school.


Option to own

While construction of Aspen's Statesboro office was being completed, Chapel was part of the team at the Pooler office for six months. She comes here as the only dentist, for now, at this new location, and as an Aspen employee, not an owner.

"Eventually I'll have the option to buy this practice and be part of the franchise, which is part of my plan," Chapel said.

Aspen has a management team, including regional and territorial managers, and Chapel indicated that she likes that aspect of working with a larger company.

"What's nice is I can do what I'm best at, and that is being a dentist, instead of having to run a practice," she said. "I did that for 30 years and it's so much easier to just do what I'm good at.

"I'm not saying I'm a fantastic businesswoman," she added, with a little laughter, "and not to be conceited, but I think I'm a pretty darn good dentist."


Patient access

Another things Chapel likes, she said, is the company's efforts to increase access to dental care. Aspen Dental offers new patients a free exam and free first-visit X-rays, accepts patients without dental insurance, as well as most insurance plans, and provides a money-back guarantee on dentures.

The company also offers financing plans. In her previous, independent practice, Chapel accepted credit cards but otherwise offered no financing, she said.

The Aspen Dental office here will also be open later into the evening one day each week, Monday, and some hours on Saturday one day each month, "so people don't have to miss work," Chapel said.

Office hours will be 7:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and 7:30 am.-12:30 p.m. Friday. But Monday hours will be 9 a.m.-7 p.m.

On the first Saturday of each month, beginning April 7, the office will open from 7:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. That Saturday is intended for scheduled procedures, but the practice takes emergency and walk-in patients.

"We will do our best to fit them in," Chapel said, after noting that it's hard to turn away a patient with a toothache.


The team

Tara Middleton, registered dental hygienist, is named on the front door along with Dr. Chapel. Another dentist's name is also on the card, but that dentist is with the larger group, and only Chapel is here for now.

Eventually, Aspen could add a second doctor here, and if that happened, the two dentists would work shifts, keeping the office open 12 hours a day, Chapel said. She worked in an arrangement like that in Pooler.

In addition to Middleton and Chapel, the local team includes three assistants, a patient service representative who works the front desk, a practice manager and a lab technician.

"We have our own lab on premises, so we can make the dentures here, we can do repairs, we can do adjustments, we can do relines ... you can come in and sometimes we can get it back that same day," Chapel said.

Nationally, Aspen Dental Management Inc. hosts an annual day of free dental care for military veterans. Regionally, the company also has a mobile office, which served about 40 veterans in Augusta one day last week, Chapel said.

The first veterans' free dental care day in the Statesboro office is slated for June 9.

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.

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