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Word of Mouth

By on May 1, 2016

Dentist serves drivers’ needs at Iowa 80 TA Travel Center

“I figured I would give it a go here for a short period of time, and here we are 23 years later.” – Dr. Thomas Roemer, D.D.S.

Dr. Thomas Roemer’s business is a lot like pulling teeth. In fact, in many instances, it’s exactly that. But unlike the expression that suggests making someone do something against his or her will, his dental patients flock to him in droves.

As a full-time dentist at the Iowa 80 TA Travel Center in Walcott, Roemer serves drivers’ emergency and non-emergency needs, at the world’s largest and arguably the busiest truckstop.

It started in the early ‘90s, when the Davenport, Iowa-based dentist noticed that his Yellow Pages ad drew a high number of calls from truckers at the TA Travel Center.

With an estimated 5,000-plus visitors a day at Iowa 80, Roemer saw an opportunity to serve a steady stream of walk-in traffic, and established a part-time dental office in 1993 in an underused workout room at the truckstop 20 minutes west of the Quad Cities.

Unlike a traditional dental practice that establishes a regular clientele based on cleaning teeth every six months, the majority of Roemer’s walk-ins are in misery, with unbearable tooth pain that requires immediate treatment.

“We have people walking in holding their jaws in pain,” says the 55-year-old Roemer, whose wife assists him in his one-man practice. “The question that I hear most often from patients who walk in the door is, ‘Do you pull teeth?’”

Initially, Roemer worked at the truck stop three half-days a week, splitting time with his dental office in Davenport. But when it became apparent that I-80 was generating a much higher volume of patients, he took up full-time residence at Iowa 80 in 2003.

“Originally, I figured I would give it a go here for a short period of time, and here we are 23 years later,” Roemer says.

Nearly two years ago, Roemer moved his office down the hall to a larger space, which is updated with two dental chairs and newer equipment. Working with the same staff for 16 years—including his wife, Amy, a certified dental assistant—Roemer has set down roots in a most unlikely location. Many of the patients that Roemer treats are one time only—he never sees them again.

“We cater primarily to over-the-road professionals,” says Roemer, whose practice is called Interstate Dental. “We are mostly a walk-in facility, and a majority of patients come to our office for emergency care. They are usually seeking some kind of treatment to relieve pain.”

In many instances, a trucker will have a loose tooth that could be easily self-extracted, but they come to the dentist for help instead.

“It’s ironic that a good number of these truckers are big, strapping guys, yet they are so afraid to touch their aching tooth,” Roemer jokes.

Many patients come in thinking a filling will relieve their pain, when in fact the severity of the problem is such that it’s too late for a simple “drill and fill,” Roemer says.

The small dental office has no waiting room. If patients need to kill time prior to seeing Dr. Roemer, the 225-acre facility has plenty of diversions, including a movie theater, a 300-seat restaurant, a giant truck-gear showroom and a free truck museum.

Roemer does retain a small core of regular patients from the local area, and also has repeat business from a small percentage of truckers who come for regular care. But the majority are walk-ins seeking immediate relief. Regular patients are asked to call 24 hours in advance, and walk-ins are treated first.

“At this point, our location is pretty well known among over-the-road drivers,” Roemer says. “We don’t do any advertising, and all of our business is word-of-mouth, so to speak.” o

To reach Interstate Dental, call 563-284-6161. The business is located 15 miles west of Davenport, Iowa on I-80 at Exit 284.


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