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Archive for Sunday, July 21, 1996

DRILLING FOR DOLLARS

July 21, 1996

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— It might not surprise anyone to learn there's a Manhattan dentist who owns an airplane and houses patients in posh, restored cottages. But Dr. R. David Sager is from The Little Apple, not the big one.

Inside the pastoral riverside cottage, there's a basket of fruit and a bottle of Meriden Vineyards 1994 chardonnay.

Dr. R. David Sager's resort is serene and inviting, but it's not for people who are luxuriating. It's for people who are recuperating.

"We used to put people up in a motel, but it got to be too much," said the Manhattan dentist. "It would be a football weekend and there would be all kinds of noise, and they'd have to go down to the motel restaurant with their face all jimmy-jammied -- it just wasn't good."

Since 1992, Sager has offered patients the ultimate post-op ward -- two remodeled and updated fishing cabins set among lush gardens, towering trees and winding, shaded walkways.

It's part of a practice rooted in a small town but promoted as state-of-the-art and aimed at an upscale clientele.

"Not many people are surprised to hear we're in Manhattan," said Ulli Thieme, dental assistant. "But a lot of people will say, 'Manhattan, Kansas?'"

Yes, the Little Apple, home of Kansas State University and the place where Sager's father started a general dentistry practice in 1947. Today, Sager estimates that 65 percent of his patients come from the Manhattan region, most for routine dentistry work.

But Sager is shooting for the world, and dental implants are his ticket. Using techniques pioneered by Dr. Axel Kirsch, a German dentist who speaks yearly at a national symposium at Sager's practice, Sager can replace single teeth or entire rows. Replacements are made on-site, using ceramic technology that can make a manufactured tooth indistinguishable from the healthy teeth around it, said Ann Leslie, Sager's administrative assistant.

"When they make teeth, it's an artistic endeavor," she said.

But there's a price to pay for implantation, a Sager specialty that involves such things as laying open gums and drilling holes in jawbones.

Sager has collected instructional videos of the procedure. He almost never shows them to patients before surgery, because he fears it will make them squeamish.

Most often, implant patients come in on Sunday, have their surgery on Monday and stay until Wednesday or Thursday in Sager's cabins.

Sager and his 12-person staff supply food, car rides, cleaning services and other necessities.

The 46-year-old third-generation Manhattan native says the resort concept has been a runaway success, helping draw patients from across the United States and as far away as Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

"I'm not aware of anybody else who does this concept," he said.

Signs of prosperity surround Sager. He drives a new BMW sedan and has patients flown into his clinic in a twin-engine Cessna that he owns. His glass-and-marble building in downtown Manhattan houses a conference center that has drawn together dentists nationwide for the last 13 years for the Midwestern Dentistry Symposium.

"At the point they decide to come here," he said of his patients, ''they understand they'll be spending $15,000 to $40,000 over a six- to eight-month period of time."

Had Sager followed his earlier career path, his patients would be spending their money in another town. He said that after graduating from KSU, he left Manhattan and planned never to return.

But while practicing in Chicago, he had a change of heart.

"Sometimes, when you're in a big city, you can get lost," he said.

In 1981, he returned to Manhattan and began building on to his father's practice. Six years later, his father died, leaving him at the helm of Sager Dental Associates P.A.

Using what he calls a "personal dentistry" approach, Sager makes his first contact with patients through an exhaustive questionnaire. There are more than 100 blanks to fill in, with questions ranging from "Do you have a diagnosed malocclusion?" to "Do you utilize concierge and hotel valet services when you travel?"

From there, Leslie coordinates appointments.

"Instead of going 20 times as might be done in some places, maybe they come here two, three times in six months, and they're rehabilitated," Sager said.

Besides dental work, Sager and his 12-person staff provide hair care, skin care, makeup tips and other services to enhance patients' appearances.

The results can be staggering, said Thieme, one of two dental assistants in Sager's office.

"There was a patient from Omaha who had become a recluse because of her appearance," she said. "But after the first visit, you could see her confidence and self-esteem coming back. She just started to bloom like a little flower."

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