A Reason to Smile

On Madison's East side, Tamim Sifri uses professionalism and compassion to help care for his patients.

How did someone not yet thirty become a dentist and the owner of a dental practice? Dr. Tamim Sifri credits his parents. “My father is one of those people who things happen for.” After growing up in a village in Syria, Mr. Sifri (Dr. Sifri’s father) moved to the U.S. and made his way to a better situation, ensuring his children could do the same.

That modest explanation isn’t the whole story. Dr. Sifri loved arts and sciences in school, but being a pragmatist, he gravitated to the science side and eventually to dentistry. And he’s glad he did. “I’m able to bring the two worlds of art and science together. Unlike other professions, I get to provide prevention as part of my treatment.

And there’s a quick reward in that patients get out of pain when they come to me. It’s very satisfying.” A graduate of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, Dr. Sifri worked at practices in the Chicago area and then Janesville. In July 2007, he took over the practice of Dr. Erickson, who had been in practice in Madison for over 30 years.

It was a quick transition. “Dr. Erickson left on a Friday; I was here on Monday,” he recounts.

Dr. Sifri is quick to point out that he is just one of a team of people providing care to the patients at Smart Dental. Sue, the dental hygienist who had worked for 25 years with the former owner, wondered whether she would still get a full hour with each patient after Dr. Sifri bought the practice. He deferred to her expertise in making that decision, and also in other decisions. He says, “I don’t know if she’ll like me saying this, but she is the matriarch of the practice.”

Dr. Sifri involves the staff members in the whole practice, giving them more than auxiliary roles. He invited Sue and Sarah, the dental assistant at Smart Dental for the past six years, to help in the hiring of an office coordinator who would schedule appointments and handle the complicated task of insurance. They interviewed Ann and knew they’d found the one.

Knowing that Dr. Sifri has a sweet tooth, Sue, Sarah and Ann gave him a cookie bouquet for Boss’s Day. Retelling the story, he seems almost embarrassed by being recognized as “the boss.” Nonetheless, he knows the importance of his position. “I have to be the team captain, the cheerleader, and the fix-it man. Ultimately, as the owner, the buck stops with me.”

However, Dr. Sifri is not the kind of doctor who makes sure you know he is a doctor. You may find him in a white physician coat, but that belies his approach.

When performing a dental check for the first time, Dr. Sifri asks that the patient is upright, never laid back in the chair. When sitting and talking, he adjusts so that he is eye-level with you. These seemingly small gestures are part of his larger philosophy about dentistry.

Dr. Sifri is adamant that as a dentist, he is not there to make patients feel badly about the state of their dental health. He says, “We practice guilt-free dentistry,” which means no chiding for not flossing and no judgment for missed check-ups.

Then, there is the office motto: “Inform before you perform.” Dr. Sifri personally goes through the plan for treatment with each patient before any procedure takes place. Ann is charged with explaining insurance coverage. These sessions take as long as is needed for the patient to be clear on all details.

Dr. Sifri lives and works on the East side, not minding that he runs into patients at the grocery store or at his favorite Madison pastime, Concerts on the Square. He has quickly put down roots in Madison and in just two years time is already serving on the board of the AIDS Network. He predicts he’ll be here for a long while. “I hope that in 30 or 40 years, I am still serving my patients,” he says with a smile.