Taking over another dentist’s practice presents challenges. The new dentist in town must win the confidence of existing patients and staff with his personality, style and treatment methods.

Dr. Manoj Bahl says he had some big shoes to fill when he bought the practice of Merrillville dentist Dr. Allan Nalbor. Yet in less than a year, Bahl has managed to gain new clients, increase business and retain all staff. He has renamed the office Excel Dental Studio. In the process, Bahl has earned Nalbor’s respect and admiration.

“He’s set high goals that I believe he’ll attain,” Nalbor says. “In less than eight months, he’s increased the gross revenue by 24 percent and is on pace to collect $1 million in his first year of solo practice.”

Bahl is planning to hire additional staff, bringing in a specialist and associate during the year.

“He understands the importance of patient-staff relationships,” Nalbor says. “He retained all of my employees and is working hard to grow the business while keeping the small-town dental office atmosphere.”

Bahl believes in establishing personal connections with patient and in embracing the technology patients expect, Nalbor says.

“I think he is a credit to the dental profession with his skills both with people and in dentistry,” Nalbor says. “He is a young professional who has great potential to raise the quality of life in Northwest Indiana."

For Bahl, who counts Nalbor as one of his mentors, the admiration is mutual.

“You see the demeanor of somebody who ran the practice, how he conducted himself with his patients and his staff and you really want to emulate that,” Bahl says.

Nalbor was successful because he built relationships with his patients and staff for 37 years, a practice Bahl says he intends to continue.

“He passed that down to me and he let me know this is a relationship driven practice,” Bahl says. “So the minute my patients get in the chair, conversation is about them not about me.”

Bahl says treatment in his practice is not rushed. “We may not be the fastest office but that is okay,” he says. “We’re a very friendly practice. In one day it was amazing. We had a patient bring in basil for me to cook, another patient bringing in arthritic cream for one of my assistants and in the same day we spent 20 minutes on a very fearful patient.”

Bahl says his decision to embark on a career in dentistry was an amalgamation of his enjoying science and working with his hands, wanting to be a small business owner and having a family friend as a role model.

“My sophomore year of college, I realized that is I was going to go into health care,” Bahl says. “At the time, physicians didn’t get to spend a lot of time with patients - it was rush a patient in and rush a patient out.”

His interest in dentistry spiked when shadowed a family friend in southern California. “I thought that was a really nice niche, one that would work well,” Bahl says. “So I decided to pursue it.”

Bahl says his parents are his unsung heroes.

“My father and mother were great mentors,” Bahl says. “My parents came from India 40 years ago, with the same mentality that a lot of parents have to sacrifice for their children.”

He says his parents, Ramesh and Kamal Bahl, also taught him determination. “I come from a working family,” Bahl says. “We have always had jobs. We have always tried to succeed.”

Bahl says his wife Sarah, an optometrist, has sacrificed the most to support his career.

“When we moved here, for a full year I pretty much only worked two days a week and spent another three or four days studying the business of running a practice because I didn’t want to get in over my head,” Bahl says, adding that he runs most business decisions by his wife for her valued input.

Believing in community involvement, Bahl serves on the board of the Northwest Indiana Dental Society. He is creating a scholarship program for children of his patients, estimating the scholarships will range between $1,000 and $1,500 each.

“If you are a successful business, you want your area to be successful and to show pride in your community,” Bahl says.

Bahl participated in a pro bono dentistry program called Health Services for Humanity while he was in residency at Ohio State University. Along with a couple surgeons and a pharmacist, Bahl traveled to Honduras to treat more than 100 patients in an abandoned motel using scuba tanks to power the drills.

“We provided very good care,” Bahl says. “It’s fulfilling. The patients were appreciative. It opens up your eyes as to just how lucky you are.”

Bahl hopes to continue working with the American Dental Association Give Kids a Smile program, which provide dental care to underprivileged children. The dental screenings and simple procedures are usually performed in a gymnasium, Bahl says. He says many children do not receive adequate dental care which endangers their overall health.

In his practice, Bahl believes in providing as many services as possible.

“We do a lot of implant work here, which is really important,” Bahl says.

Excel Dental Studio also offers clear braces and complex cosmetic surgeries. “It is part of a modern day dental practice to do these cases,” Bahl says. We do a lot of our own root canals here. The patients love it.”

Bahl says his goal for his practice is to provide the highest quality of care.

“I don’t want my patients or the community to think that just because they don’t live in a big city they can’t get dental procedures done,” Bahl says. “I give my patients options here whether you are 71 or 41. I think that what separates us from other offices.”