We asked orthodontists what their greatest professional success was, and here are their answers

Michael C. Alpern

Michael C. Alpern, DDS, MS, learned from his father to “never treat a stranger.”

The best thing I ever did for my practice was to learn from my father, a dentist, who taught me, “Never treat a stranger.” In other words, make sure you know all the important facts about each patient. Recently, I saw a transfer retention patient in her late 50s. We ask all patients to completely and thoroughly fill out the medical and dental history. She completed the medical history informing me of a thyroid problem (under control). This very nice patient had a banded mandibular retainer which had been present for 30 years postorthodontic treatment. The solder joint was fractured on one side.

I reviewed her medical history with her, and carefully asked if there were any other medical problems I needed to know, such as heart problems. She replied, “Well, I do have a prolapsed mitral valve, which requires antibiotic coverage before any dental cleanings, and … I am allergic to penicillin.” Obviously, what followed was more intensive questioning such as, “When was your last echocardiogram?” and, “Are you under the regular care of a cardiologist, and who is that?”

I should mention that removal of the lingual retainer did elicit some gingival bleeding. If I had not taken the time to question this patient about her completed medical history form, I would not have asked her to take antibiotics before my procedure. When she left, I thanked my father and the many dedicated teachers who built these safety features into my orthodontic practice.

Steve Astuto, DDS, MS

—Michael C. Alpern, DDS, MS
Port Charlotte, Fla

The best thing I ever did for my practice was to build a new, modern, high-tech office. I love the way it makes me feel every time I see my office. It has added a lot of meaning to my life. I feel like it represents me and the quality of orthodontics that I perform. I have gotten a lot of compliments over the last 5 years and get one, even today, at least once a week. It is modern, flows well, productive, and my patients and staff love it too. It has increased my patient starts and made my practice grow considerably, even in a down economy. I just wish I would have done it sooner.

—Steve Astuto, DDS, MS,
Amarillo, Tex

Al Atta, DDS, MSD, MBA

The best thing I have done was to secure my MBA. All the studies in business school stressed the importance of the customers and of integrating patients into their treatment process. We serve educated customers. I implemented the notion of “Educate, Integrate, Assure” to identify and serve my patients’ needs during my treatment process. My patients are my most critical part of my treatment process. They share in the decisions about their mechanical plane, they have an idea what I am doing and what I am expecting, so they notice treatment progress. This provides me continuous quality control in the treatment process, and is the best and most effective marketing tool in orthodontics. The more patients know, the better the outcome.

—Al Atta, DDS, MSD, MBA
Deerfield, Ill

Jay Bowman, DMD, MSD

Take the time to design, draw, draft, and live in the plans for a new office. The due diligence was well worth the time and patience in the creation of a facility that has made the practice of orthodontics more efficient and comfortable.

—Jay Bowman, DMD, MSD
Portage, Mich

Howard A. Fine, DMD, MMSc

The best thing I ever did for the practice was to open a small satellite office. After a few years in practice, many more practitioners started to open offices in or around the town where my main office was. I saw the potential for growth a few towns north. In that community, the patients had to travel to the main hub to get services. By placing myself in that town, I was able to offer services closer to home, which grew the practice.

But the best part of the situation was how it was constructed. I teamed up with a group of general dentists in the area. We took a rectangular space and cut it up so that my portion was 37% of the total. A wall was built between the offices so that the practices would be separate. However, we placed a door in the middle of the wall into a common lab, x-ray, and utility space. All plumbing and electrical for the dental units came out of this shared space and splayed laterally into both facilities, so that there would be no duplication of equipment. By sharing all these items, the cost of construction was minimal. Outside of dental equipment, the bill to fabricate a fully working, 100% digital, 1,000-square-foot orthodontic satellite was around $30,000 15 years ago. Plus, I had built-in referrers that no one knew were partners in the space. The office continues to be productive because the overhead costs are so low.

Al Gilbert, DDS, MS

—Howard A. Fine, DMD, MMSc
Mount Kisco and Goldens Bridge, NY

I think the best thing I ever did for my practice was to organize a mobile dental unit and provide free services for the native communities around Mexico City. They are really very poor and don’t have a chance to get their teeth fixed. We attend around 80 patients each month, and we feel pretty satisfied with the results.

—Al Gilbert, DDS, MS
Mexico City, Mexico

Practice in a group-practice environment. There is always somebody with whom to share ideas, successes, and “not successes.”

—Lee W. Graber, DDS, MS, PhD
Vernon Hills, Ill

Lee W. Graber, DDS, MS, PhD

Lee W. Graber, DDS, MS, PhD (right), believes in working in a group environment.

Tyler H. Jolley, DMD

Tyler H. Jolley, DMD, takes pride in his indirect bonding.

Robert “Tito” Norris, DDS

Robert “Tito” Norris, DDS, is grateful for his personal assistant.

Laurance Jerrold, DDS, JD

The best thing I ever did for my practice was to get out while the gettin’ was good. I think too many of us stay in the game too long. We don’t get out because we are afraid. Afraid of what we will do with our time; afraid of whether or not we will be able to make it financially; afraid to move to a better climate because we won’t know anyone there; afraid of whatever fear there is to be afraid of. FDR said it best: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

—Laurance Jerrold, DDS, JD
Jacksonville, Fla

The best thing I ever did for my practice was to use Opal Seal in conjunction with the Valo light for all of our indirect bonding. Opal seal releases fluoride and becomes recharged every time it comes in contact with fluoride. The Valo is a plasma arc light that cures with such intensity and focus that it requires only one round of curing through our indirect bonding trays.

—Tyler H. Jolley, DMD
Grand Junction, Colo

Neal D. Kravitz, DMD, MS

Unquestionably, the best thing that I have done for my practice is to participate with all insurance carriers. Many clinicians avoid participating with insurance companies for a variety of justifiable reasons, the most common being: 1) orthodontic fees are excessively discounted; 2) the hassle of collecting from insurance reimbursements; and 3) patients may switch carriers or lose employment, which complicates insurance reimbursement.

However, the return outweighs the work.

—Neal D. Kravitz, DMD, MS
South Riding, Va, and White Plains, Md

Robert “Scott McCranels, DMD

Scott McCranels, DMD (left), makes his schedule work for himself and his patients.

The best thing I ever did for my practice is hard to narrow down to just one thing. As with life, it is never just one thing, but a culmination of many small things that, when put together make it all work. The top three small thing I ever did for my practice:

  1. Work only 4 days per week (no Fridays);
  2. have extended hours on Monday nights for busy families; and
  3. have a charge for all retainer visits once debonded (this is never included in my fee).

—Scott McCranels, DMD
West Palm Beach, Fla

The best thing I ever did for my practice was to get a personal assistant. In my case, this was a loyal, trusted employee who had been with the practice for years but was looking for a change from clinical assisting. She now does everything for me, including, but not limited to: maintenance of my vehicles, pick-up/drop off dry cleaning, scheduling and overseeing home maintenance, muffin runs, research tracking, coordinating with Invisalign, and working on the marketing team. One of her most important responsibilities is to see to it that nothing makes it to my desk unless it needs my immediate attention or signature. This helps tremendously in reducing the “battle of the bulge” that would occur daily on my desk if there were not a fine filter. Furthermore, since she has 18 years of clinical experience, she can always assist in a pinch.

—Robert “Tito” Norris, DDS
San Antonio


The best thing I ever did for my practice was set up a budget. Your budget is just an estimate of what you think will spend against what you think you will make. Both are estimates and will not prevent you from doing whatever you want as circumstances change. But it will also tell you what will remain that you can spend on your life and save for your future.

When you do this, you begin to covet the bottom line number and you become a part of the team that you lead. It allows you to challenge your staff to meet the financial goals that you agree on and provide the opportunity, through a bonus system, for them to share in the additional net income if they exceed the goals of the budget.

—Robert “Pete” Pickron, DDS

What’s the best thing you ever did for your practice? Share it with us on our Facebook page or at Twitter.com/OrthoProducts.