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Exploring Life & Business with Dr. Erik Ligans

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Erik Ligans.

Hi Dr. Ligans, can you start by introducing yourself? We’d love to learn more about how you got to where you are today?
I’m Dr. E, a 29 year old dentist who built a dental office from the ground up in the middle of a pandemic. The office officially opened in March of 2021, but I started the process back in July 2020 when society was shutdown and life seemed to come to a halt. For me, this is when the vision I first saw as a junior in high school came to life. Born in Inglewood but raised in Chino Hills, I went to USC Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry and have been living in LA ever since. I’m one of the youngest private practice owners in the city and use that to my advantage -my office is equipped with all of the latest innovative technology the dental field has to offer.

I realize this may sound similar to other spiels you’ve heard from dentists, but there are several things that set me apart. I believe that going to the dentist should be fun (yes, fun) and I’m determined to show my patients how their appointments can become an experience that they actually look forward to. I’m also different in the way I dress – traditional slacks and a button up, sure, but you’ll never catch me wearing anything but Jordans or Nike on my feet. That quickly set the tone for my staff and even patients, too. No one leaves without mentioning that Playa District Dental is not only the nicest dental office they’ve been to but also the boujiest. If you follow me on Instagram (@dr.e.ligans), you’ll see the running joke that most of my patients wear their best outfits to what they call “Met Gala Dental” because they know I’ll be putting them on the ‘Gram.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
This has definitely been a very challenging journey, but it’s also been just as humbling and rewarding. There have been struggles every step of the way – from the very beginning during undergrad at UC Riverside to owning and operating my business by myself today. One of the reasons why it’s been so difficult is because I am navigating this without anyone’s footsteps to follow. I don’t have any dentists in my family and no one I’m close to had any business experience either. My parents always did their best to support me, but it was up to me to figure out how I was going to make this dream happen for myself.

As a Freshman in college, I often felt in over my head. I was the young, Black kid from Chino Hills trying to learn how to become an entrepreneur and dentist, but when I looked to my left and right, no one else really looked like me. It was tough to be the only black pre-dental student in my classes and at times, even discouraging. Some days I felt like I just didn’t belong.

Eventually, I overcame those feelings by staying the course and meeting my first peer mentor, who was two years older than me (S/o Eric Brown DDS). He gave me the playbook and I felt more prepared. Studying for the DAT was the next major obstacle – it’s basically the MCAT/LSAT equivalent for dental school. Passing that was one of my greatest accomplishments because it led me to get accepted into USC – my dream school.

When I started though, I didn’t have as many resources as my other classmates did. It was a familiar feeling to be one of the only black students in a class of 144, but it didn’t make it any easier. It’s what makes me so grateful for the friends and mentors who took me under their wings along the way. (S/o Lenise Yarber DDS and Jordan Gaddis DDS). Once I graduated in 2018, it was another difficult transition into the real world. Working on actual patients in a real dental office is very different than school. School doesn’t prepare you for how quickly you’re expected to work and at first, it would take me 45 minutes to fill just one cavity. But I adapt quickly and as my speed increased, so did my confidence. When I was filling four cavities in the same amount of time and patients were coming in just to see me, I realized I was ready for my own office.

Setting up the office was the biggest obstacle yet. From finding the perfect space to negotiating the lease alongside my lawyer and broker to hiring a dental-specific contractor and dealing with back ordered parts which delayed my planned opening date. It felt like one thing after another, but I knew nothing worth having was going to be easy. It took me three attempts to get approved for a practice finance loan and when I finally did, I had jump right into setting up all the necessities like IT infrastructure, dental insurance credentialing, city permits, equipment, interior design, the list goes on and on. Every moment and decision had its own setback, but seeing it all the way through made it that much more gratifying.

I named the office Playa District Dental and set a hard opening date for March 15th, even though I wasn’t sure we would finish construction in time. I built the office from the ground up, so the weeks before that opening date were the most stressful time of my life. But after doing it, I felt like I could accomplish anything. It only makes things sweeter now that the staff I hired feel more like family to not only me but to the patients as well. I’m grateful to them for helping me quickly build my clientele up and with a lot of patience and marketing, I’m already booked out three weeks in advance. Pull up!

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know?
I want Los Angeles to know that I’m the coolest young dentist in the city with the nicest office, too. It’s a contemporary aesthetic, equipped with the latest dental technology, computers and everyone’s favorite – ceiling-mounted TVs so you can watch your Netflix show while you get your dental work. In every chair, you’ll also have a beautiful view of the Howard Hughes Promenade, one of the reasons why I chose this location.

I’m a general dentist with a passion for cosmetic dentistry. I’ll soon become THE veneer dentist of LA, but as I build my portfolio, I’m setting another goal to become a household name for dentists in the city. I have no doubt I’ll achieve that because my business model is so unique. I’m very humble, but I also know my skill level and work ethic are different. I started my office years earlier than most dentists do, which is typically 5-10 years after they graduate from dental school. In my case, I was just 2.5 years post-grad.

Even though I really enjoy doing cosmetic procedures like veneers and Invisalign, I also offer every other service at my office. You can come to me for your cleanings, fillings, crowns, root canals, extractions, you name it. In addition to my Doctor of Dental Surgery degree, I’ve taken courses to fine-tune my skills in every facet. That’s another thing that sets my office apart, I won’t refer you out to a specialist like other dentists do. Consider this a high-end, one-stop shop.

I realize I am paving the way for future dentists like myself. It’s important to me that I lead by example, which is why I’m so dedicated to giving back and serving the underserved. To do this, I’ve partnered with Physicians for a Healthy California – an organization that helps to provide patients universal healthcare so low-income communities have access to quality care in an office like mine.

It’s likely evident at this point – I take pride in making Playa District Dental anything but the stereotypical dentist office. I’ve replaced random pictures of teeth with Kobe portraits and elevator music with R&B to create a hip culture targeting the 20-30 somethings who usually despise these kinds of office visits. I have a neon sign similar to the one at your favorite nightclub that says “Pulled up on Dr. E” where I take pictures with most of my patients. I also wear Jordans or some fly Nike’s which prompts everyone who comes to see me to do the same. It’s something they all look forward to now, wondering what shoes I’m going to wear and, consequently, what they should wear to “MetGalaDental,” too. It’s made our office fun and ultimately, that’s my daily goal – breaking the stigma of going to the dentist. If you ask my patients, they’ll tell you what once was a dreaded visit somewhere else is actually a vibe when they come to Dr. E.

How can people work with you, collaborate with you or support you?
If interested in becoming a patient, you can book an appointment on my website playadistrictdental.com or call 310-777-1373.

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