ST. PETERSBURG — Not long ago, Olivia Oldham announced what she wants to be when she grows up: “‘A tooth doctor,’” reports her grandmother, Beth Klement.
Olivia is 6, so she has some time to think about it. But if the career path sticks, it would be the next generation to carry on the Klement Family Dental legacy.
Created in 1979 after Dr. Tom Klement finished dental school and joined his already-practicing brother Dr. Bill Klement, the business now has nearly 70 employees, with eight dentists between two St. Petersburg offices. The practice’s watchwords are “caring, comfortable and convenient,” with expanded hours and mindfulness about those who dread dental visits.
“We also don’t take it personally when somebody says ‘I hate you people,’ ” said Jill Schulman, a 19-year employee who worked her way up from dental assistant to clinical supervisor.
“A lot of times when people come to the dentist, they’re really afraid. People will say ‘I’d rather have a baby than go to the dentist,’” said Beth Klement, the practice’s chief executive officer. “So I love it when people say ‘I used to hate going to the dentist.’ They’ve overcome their fears, and I love it.”
In 1988, she was finishing her Ph.D. (dissertation topic: stress and dentists) when her husband Tom Klement asked if she could come in and help out at the front desk until he found someone. “We ended up working together for 31 years,” she said. “Together, his skill set and my skill set, we made a great team.”
She called her husband “a true visionary” with an eye for industry trends. He was an early adopter of expanded hours, and today they open early, have evening appointments and offer Saturday hours so people don’t have to miss work or school.
Longtime patient Libby Barr remembers how she used to jokingly grab Dr. Klement’s tie as he worked on her, telling him, “You hurt me, I’ll hurt you.”
“He was a lot of fun,” she said.
When Tom Klement died in 2019 at 66, longtime patients and vendors attended his funeral.
Today, three of Tom and Beth Klement’s children are in the family business: Dentists Kristen Klement Oldham and Stephen Klement, and chief operating officer Katherine Childs.
The goal is a team-oriented office. At monthly meetings, birthdays and work anniversaries are recognized with a shout-out, flowers, cake and a gift. The Employee of the Month gets to spin a wheel to win a prize — a dinner out, or maybe a prime parking spot.
Employees can collect small bonuses of $5 or $10 for going the extra mile, like helping a patient with a toothache get seen quickly.
“Everybody loves those little white envelopes when they come out,” Schulman said.
“We try to make most days fun,” Beth Klement said.
Follow trends affecting the local economy
Subscribe to our free Business by the Bay newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Schulman points to frequent training and growth opportunities as office positives.
The practice emphasizes what they call “same-days” — procedures that get done in a single visit so patients don’t have to return.
Shulman said when her husband died in December, the office sent food, supplies, cards — “anything I needed, they were there and it was sincere and I knew they really meant it. That’s a family.”
For several years before the pandemic hit, the practice participated in a nonprofit program called Dentistry from the Heart, intended to help people who can’t afford dental care. On a designated day, any adult could come in for a free cleaning, filling or extraction.
People would take multiple buses to get there. One woman who needed a tooth pulled came the afternoon before. Some came every year. “That was kind of amazing and humbling at the same time,” Beth Klement said. “We probably saw 150 to 200 patients in a day. It was our favorite day of the year.”
These days, they see patients who came in as kids bringing in their own children.
Longtime patient Dave Rister remembers Klement kids running around at the office — the ones who work there now.
“Nobody likes to go to the dentist,” he said. “But we really enjoy them.”
“You know the TV show Cheers? Everybody knows your name kind of thing?” said Barr. “It’s kind of like that.”
Klement Family Dental
Private dental practice
Location: St. Petersburg
Employee comments: “I feel like it’s not a job. It feels like family.”
“I get to wake up and do what I enjoy doing for a living.”
“I love our patients and that we are committed to great patient care. We love our team members and want to create a great and caring work environment for them. We are always seeking to improve our processes and work environment.”