by Rich Smith

Kevin C. Walde, DDS, MS, proves that you can work hard in a playful atmosphere

A famous television commercial of the 1970s opens with three finicky brothers seated around the breakfast table. Placed before them is a bowl of cereal that none of them has ever tasted. The older brothers are filled with trepidation and refuse to try the new food unless they first see what the youngest does with it. They then slide the bowl in front of “Little Mikey.” When the tot begins to chow down with delight, the brothers exclaim, “He likes it! Hey, Mikey!”

Something akin to this has been a fairly commonplace occurrence for Kevin C. Walde, DDS, MS. Colleagues often joke about their reluctance to try a new technique or product until Walde (WALD-E) has played around with it a bit and they can gauge his reaction to it. If he gives an idea or item the thumbs-up, colleagues know that it is probably worth adopting into their own practices, since Walde’s instincts are usually good.

A prime example is indirect bonding, which Walde first became stuck on 20 years ago. “Indirect bonding was so much easier and faster—doctor chairtime is only about a minute,” he says. “The most time-consuming aspect is in the lab, where I have to check the bracket positioning on the models before turning things over to my lab assistant,” whose task then is to make an inner soft tray and an outer rigid tray. “Some orthodontists will tell you that indirect bonding permits more accurate bracket placement. However, studies thus far have failed to support claims of greater accuracy. Personally, though, I do seem to get a better result with indirect bonding, but that’s just my own opinion based on nothing more than anecdotal evidence.”



Walde Orthodontic Associates


Washington, Mo;
Sullivan, Mo


Kevin C. Walde, DDS, MS



Years in practice:


Patients per day


Starts per year


Days worked per week:


Office square footage:

Washington: 9,000
Sullivan: 1,100

Walde is partial to the one-step, no-mix self-curing materials from Reliance Orthodontic Products. The Washington, Mo-based practitioner (who conducts business under the name of Walde Orthodontic Associates) developed an interest in indirect bonding because he was suffering back and neck pain from hours of direct-bonding work. “The pain was bad enough that I figured I was going to have to get into another career if I couldn’t find a way to put braces on without putting myself through torture,” he says. Converting to indirect bonding lessened but did not eliminate the pain. “Still, there’s no question that I staved off major health problems, enough so that I could remain in practice.”

Making Space

Walde began practicing orthodontics in 1985, immediately after completing his orthodontic residency at St Louis University. He joined a practice in his hometown of Washington, Mo, and spent almost 5 months as an associate. “I was eager to have my own practice, so I left and started one from the ground up. I rented a 1,200-square-foot place here in town—about half the lower level of a building owned by an optometry practice that had the upstairs space for itself.” The other half of the ground floor was occupied by a church that moved out 6 years after Walde moved in. Walde expanded his practice into the church’s vacated space.

Walde remained in that original office until 2003. “I eventually needed more space and—in order to save steps—space that was better laid out.” He found a building in town that offered the desired extra square footage, so Walde bought it. “I didn’t want to rent again; I wanted to own,” he explains.

Walde and his staff
Walde and his staff like to liven up their work with beach days and days celebrating the St Louis Cardinals.

After completing the build-out on the new office, Walde ended up with 4,600 square feet for his practice and an additional 1,100 square feet that he leased to a hearing aid dealership.

His office’s open-bay clinical area is configured with six chairs (and ready to accept two more in the event a second orthodontist someday joins the practice). In 2005, Walde also acquired a 1,250-square-foot, four-chair satellite office in Sullivan, Mo, about 30 minutes away. “That one belonged to another orthodontist who was getting ready to shutter the place, even though he had a sizable and active patient base being served by it,” Walde says.

The satellite office is equipped for computerized charting, but, oddly enough, the main office lacks that capability—a deficiency soon to be rectified, Walde assures. In fairness, things are not all that primitive in the Washington office. “We have display screens at chairside to allow the review of digital x-rays,” he says.

Walde sees patients in the satellite office on Wednesdays, 8 am to 4 pm, while his flagship is open the other 4 days of the week. Patients there fill the chairs from 10 am to 6 pm on Mondays and from 8:15 am to 5 pm Tuesdays and Thursdays (except in the summer, when the hours change to 7:30 am to 4 pm on those 2 days). Fridays are reserved for labwork, paperwork, and emergency cases. Somehow, he manages to squeeze in the time to teach at St Louis University, where he is an associate clinical professor in the Department of Orthodontics.

Happy Days

Friendly, talented staff (he has one part-time and nine full-time employees) is a hallmark of Walde’s practice today, as is fun, best exemplified by his frequent tributes to the music of Jimmy Buffett.

“Once or twice a month, we’ll have an Island Day, where we come in wearing Hawaiian print shirts and put some Jimmy Buffett and reggae music on the sound system. It gets everyone in a good mood,” says Walde, a Buffetteer so ardent that he qualifies for membership in the ranks of hard-core fans known as Parrotheads.

Walde and his staff also are enthusiastic followers of the St Louis Cardinals (as are many of his patients and their parents). Accordingly, days are set aside—roughly 1 of every 7 during baseball season—to celebrate the Redbirds. Shirts bearing the Cards’ name and logo are standard attire for the staff on those days. Come football season, the Rams jerseys come out. Then there is hunting. “Hunting is a popular pastime in this area, so the staff even wears camouflage clothing in honor of the start of hunting season.”

Walde is a straight shooter when it comes to his dealings with prospective patients. “I’m not one to push unneeded treatment. I don’t find one little crooked tooth and then lock the patient in for $5,000 worth of treatment. I prefer to give just the facts and an appropriate recommendation.”

Walde’s decision to become an orthodontist was itself in a way based on a recommendation, as was his choosing a career in dentistry. When Walde was growing up in Washington, his family’s dentist seemed immensely satisfied caring for the teeth of friends and neighbors. Later, as Walde began taking classes at Southeast Missouri State University, it did not escape his notice that this dentist’s practice was one that left him time for family and undisturbed nights and weekends.

Wanting a career in health care, science-loving Walde initially made plans to become an MD; indeed, during his first few semesters at Southeast Missouri State, he was on a premed track. However, he grew increasingly wary of the physician’s lifestyle, which promised to subject him to emergency demands at all hours. “I realized I wanted to have a life outside of practice, so I decided then to switch from premed to predental,” he says.

Walde graduated in 1978, spent the next year working, and went on to receive his dental education at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, completing it in 1983. He then began orthodontic residency at St Louis University. “My wife’s orthodontist showed me how great orthodontic practice could be, and that’s what convinced me to make it my area of specialization.”

Walde holds his invention, the Frog Simplified Molar Distalizer
Walde holds his invention, the Frog Simplified Molar Distalizer, which he created as an alternative to headgear.

A Ribetting Saga

Walde is more than just an eager experimenter with new things. He also is an inventor. Some time ago, Walde invented a molar distalizing appliance that is sold as the Frog Simplified Molar Distalizer. Among its benefits is activation without the usual muss or fuss. “Activation takes between 5 and 10 seconds and needs to be performed only once a month,” he explains.

The Frog works by moving the molars bodily rather than tipping them. However, treatment time is no shorter, because molars subjected to the correct forces will move only about 1 mm per month, regardless of the appliance used, Walde points out.

Measuring 10 to 12 mm long, the Frog is sold as a three-part kit. Included is the appliance body (the screw that pushes the molar distally), a preformed spring that nonetheless must be custom-fit to the patient, and an activation tool. The product is manufactured and distributed by the German company Forestadent.

The genesis of the Frog goes back to Walde’s tinkering with alternatives to conventional headgear. “Headgear’s the easiest thing in the world to use—if you can get a kid to use it. I couldn’t get compliance from my kids, so I had to find some other way to make things work. I tried distalizer magnets, the Jasper Jumper, the distal jet. All of these worked, but they were at times cumbersome and could be difficult to activate or wear or both.”

Walde’s first iterations of the Frog were crude affairs based on cocktail napkin-type sketches he had drawn. It took about 5 years before he was able to locate individuals with the expertise to translate his rough ideas into something the US Patent Office would accept. “Once I had reached the stage of a patent pending, I took it to a company that made a prototype. It worked but still had some kinks that needed to be ironed out.”

Unfortunately, the firm shortly thereafter lost interest, and Walde’s invention languished. A lab contact of his later steered him to Forestadent, which had its US headquarters in St Louis. Forestandent’s interest proved genuine and enduring. “A few more prototypes were made,” Walde recalls. “Then, after we had tweaked it to the point where we thought it was a good product, it was formally introduced to the market at the American Association of Orthodontists meeting in 2006.”

As it happens, the Frog is a bigger hit in Europe than in the United States. Walde says, “The Italians and Germans are using it more than anyone over here, except for me.” Now it’s just a matter of waiting for his American colleagues to utter those famous five words: “He likes it! Hey, Walde!”


Walde enjoys listening to the escapist songs of Jimmy Buffett in part because a Buffett CD is a lot cheaper than airfare and lodging for a sun-drenched vacation on a palm-tree-dotted, white-sand beach in the tropics.

“Jimmy Buffett tells great stories about island living in his music,” Walde says. “I can’t live the life he does. I wish I could, though. So the next best thing for me is to experience it through his lyrics and music.”

Walde’s Buffettmania began around 1983, when his brother-in-law introduced him to the singer-songwriter’s sun-drenched musical style. “My brother-in-law owns a cabin at the edge of the Lake of the Ozarks, about 2 hours from here, and it seemed like every time we went to visit he had Jimmy Buffett playing on the stereo.” It did not take much exposure to those vibrant sounds before Walde was hooked.

The most recent studio-produced album of Buffett tunes, Take the Weather with You, was released almost 3 years ago (his record company has since issued a couple of live albums culled from Buffett’s never-ending touring). Walde gives Weather a thumbs-up. “Like all his albums, this one’s also great,” he says. “But my all-time Buffett favorite is Fruitcakes. Every song on it is good; that whole album is cleverly done.”

Walde’s heart skipped a beat a short while back when he first learned that Buffett would play in St Louis for the first time since 2000. Prior to 2000, Walde strove never to miss a Buffett concert when the tour came to town. “For three or four times in a row I was in charge of organizing the bus trip to the arena,” he recalls fondly. Unfortunately, a scheduling conflict prevented Walde from attending Buffett’s 2008 “Year of Still Here” tour stop in the Show Me State. Walde was crestfallen about that.

Naturally, there is more to Walde’s world outside of practice than grooving on Buffett music. For instance, Walde and his wife, Debbie (a speech language pathologist by training), are now prominent with the local chapter of United Way, serving on its board of directors. And, as far as recreational pursuits are concerned, topping the list of Walde favorites is snow skiing. “Big Sky, Montana—I love it there,” he says. “I’ve been to a lot of places to ski, but nothing beats Big Sky.”

Walde does not make an annual pilgrimage to Big Sky, but he does go skiing somewhere in the country at least once each year during snow season. “I usually go with a group of friends. When I go with the family, it’s me and the kids who hit the slopes. My wife isn’t all that fond of skiing, so we have to be sure to pick a resort where there are things for her to do as well.”

The kids, by the way, are Kate (a St Louis-area architect), Ryan (an historian seeking to get into medical school), and Jane (a nurse-in-training).


Rich Smith is a contributing writer for Orthodontic Products. For more information, contact