by Greg Thompson

With a thriving practice, a philanthropic second business, and a barn full of champion horses, Robert Chastant, DDS, is sitting tall in the saddle

Call him a geek, but don’t call him a nerd. For Robert Chastant, DDS, it’s a crucial distinction that defines his passion for useful technology over a 31-year career that has seen its share of mechanical hits and misses. In addition to using robotics to dramatically improve his practice, Chastant uses technology to find new ways to protect children through sophisticated identification systems—in some instances developing techniques well ahead of police departments.

High-Tech Protection

Chastant, based in New Iberia, La, started KidID almost 15 years ago as a way to help parents develop a quick profile of their children in the event of a child abduction. When Chastant became the first one on his block to get a digital camera, he applied it to his practice and to KidID. “I immediately thought I could now send pictures over the Internet to law officers anywhere in the country,” Chastant says. “I ran across a company which had developed a fingerprint scanner for a password on a computer. I bought the source code and gave it to PracticeWorks. PracticeWorks modified my imaging software for me, and did not charge me a penny because it was such a wonderful cause.”


Name: Chastant Orthodontics

Location: New Iberia, La (Pop: 30,000)

Owner: Robert Chastant, DDS

Specialty: Facial orthopedics for children and adults

Years in practice: 31

Patients per day: 40

Starts per year: 325

Days worked per week: 4 (3 with patients)

Office square footage: 4,200

Education: University of Pennsylvania

Web sites:,

Things took off from there, and Chastant eventually developed the now ubiquitous electronic fingerprinting with KidID—earlier than most police departments. By expanding to DNA and stem cell collection, Chastant is developing what he calls a complete system to help parents protect their children in every way. “We have now grown to a point where we offer the most comprehensive and best identity system there is in the country,” Chastant enthuses. “And we are right on the brink of being able to ID virtually every child, every year, throughout the entire state of Louisiana, at no charge to the parents.”

Five years ago, the venture grew into a business with many unexpected connections to orthodontics. For example, DNA swabs come from the mouth, and so do stem cells. What do stem cells have to do with protecting kids? For Chastant, stem cells help to complete the circle of protection that can safeguard a child from adolescence on into adulthood.

Stem Cells from Tooth Buds

With the help of a company called StemSave, which has laboratories in Boston and offices in New York, Chastant partnered to make the dream a reality. Now in addition to fingerprints, DNA, and photos, parents can also opt to extract stem cells that could benefit their child many years down the road. “The ideal place to gather stem cells is the nerve of a tooth,” Chastant explains. “My personal favorite is to utilize the tooth bud of the third molar of a child about 8 years old. The tissue in a child of that age group is almost perfect embryonic tissue in that it can be turned into just about any other structure. In addition, removing a third molar at that age is almost painless.”

What started 15 years ago as a way for Chastant to help parents and children has morphed into a labor-of-love business. Now, orthodontists who wish to perform this service in their own community—and raise their profile considerably in the process—can purchase a system from KidID. The system includes all of the needed hardware and software. If orthodontists wish to start off slowly, they can buy the number of identity cards they think they might need in the first year, along with marketing pieces that can be displayed in waiting rooms. After that, they can purchase additional supplies as needed.

Everything is free to parents, except for the stem cell extraction. “When a referring dentist takes a tooth out for this stem cell process and sends a viable sample, StemSave pays the doctor $90 for collecting the sample,” Chastant explains. “That is over and above their extraction fee. So if the parents had to pay $100 to take the tooth out, StemSave will pay the doctor $90 for gathering a viable sample—therefore, the dentist almost doubles his income on the extraction.”

Stem cells can be extracted from primary teeth if a certain amount of root structure is intact, or with bicuspid extractions. StemSave stores the cells cryogenically for $100 per year. According to Chastant, those pristine, undifferentiated cells could be used to grow an amazing variety of body parts—and the technology will only get more sophisticated as time goes on. If the stem cell collection is done by a KidID doctor, StemSave will send parents a free profile of their child’s DNA. KidID has also made special provisions allowing participating orthodontists to offer discounts on StemSave to referring doctors and staff members.

Community Service

Once they have the needed materials, orthodontists can begin to offer KidID within the community as a free service. In short, the process involves taking a child’s photo and fingerprints, and submitting them to KidID. The next step is the DNA sampling. When parents receive the DNA portion of the kit, they will also get instructions on how to swab the inside of their child’s mouth to get a good sample. Parents eventually receive their child’s ID card from the orthodontist, and they keep it in a purse or wallet. In the event a child becomes lost or missing, parents can use the KidID card to call 911 and provide information, and/or KidID will send information to police within minutes.

Chastant takes a photo for a child’s KidID record. The kits that he distributes also allow orthodontists to gather fingerprints, DNA, and stem cells from their patients.

For Chastant and others, the entire process has created an extra layer of protection within the community while also raising profiles. “It has made such an impact on my community that virtually everybody in town knows me, and it is largely because of this,” Chastant says. “Every school board member and just about every teacher is aware of my work with KidID. And if other docs want to bring it to their community, we have packages that can help them do that.”

In difficult economic times, Chastant cautions that people are throwing away direct mail pieces and rejecting virtually any entity asking for money. The beauty of giving parents a free ID card (which also includes the orthodontist’s name and phone number on the back) is that it helps protect their child and offers a powerful community message. “We have had people traveling hours to get to a KidID orthodontist,” Chastant says. “Every ID card that goes out has the doctor’s information on the back in case the card gets lost. It is not an advertisement or a promotional thing. It does not say ‘brought to you by,’ but instead says, ‘for renewal and if found, contact the doctor.’ “

While Chastant certainly acknowledges a positive effect on his practice, he warns that sincerity can’t be faked, and those who view the system merely as a practice builder are bound to fail. One way to spread that sincerity is to work with schools on creative fund-raisers. For example, Chastant has donated materials to ID all second graders in the vicinity of his practice, although he is now changing this to pre-kindergarten.

Eventually, schools can ask parents to pay $10 to update the pre-K information, with the school keeping $8 for fund-raising purposes and the remaining $2 covering the orthodontists’ costs. KidID can be run by a designated staff member, local hygienists, or dental auxiliary—and the school simply provides volunteers. “This has been one of the most well-received programs we have done for the schools,” Chastant says. “It is much better than chocolate and magazine sales.”

Chastant has three offices where KidID is performed by a volunteer mom who eventually became a vital part of the KidID staff. One of the offices is supported by local hygienists who run the program, while the other is run by a volunteer church group.

Another possibility is to ask parents to pay $2, then sell local businesses on the opportunity to have their logo on the back of the ID card. The money that gets made can then be donated to the school. The point is to help children first while also getting your name out there and growing your practice.

Affinity for Technology

As a former early adopter of many new gadgets, Chastant now admits to a more patient approach when sizing up new technology. Today, he strives for facial balance in an effort to put together the perfect smile, and not just straighten teeth. “I am a SureSmile doctor, utilizing robotics in my practice,” he says. “My treatment times have dropped to less than half of what they used to be. My number of appointments is about a third of what they used to be.”

Chastant made the switch to SureSmile 2 years ago in an effort to maintain quality care and provide more services to patients. He discovered that robotics saved crucial doctor time while allowing him to spend additional minutes having fun with patients. Now he will set occlusions and do all treatment development on the computer, then send that prescription to the robot, which bends the wire to meet his specifications.

Ultimately, the process eliminates doctor time spent bending wire and repositioning brackets. “Patient complaints of discomfort have gone to nothing,” Chastant says. “We are averaging almost a 20-appointment reduction for the patient. And I used to work 5 days a week, and now I am working 3. I spend an additional 5 hours a week while the patients are not in the office. Ultimately, it adds up to a significant doctor-time reduction for treatment procedures.”

Chastant is at the helm of his practice in New Iberia, La. He switched to the SureSmile system 2 years ago, and has found that it gives him more time to have fun with patients.

As a technologically oriented doc (aka, a geek), Chastant says it is just a matter of time before he purchases a 3D camera. While this product has well-documented uses for orthodontic practices, pictures generated by Atlanta-based 3dMD can also be uploaded into the KidID software. The rotational capabilities of such a photo could make it easier for a police officer to spot the profile of a missing child who may pass by in a vehicle. “This is all about protecting kids, and not just if they get abducted,” Chastant says. “Let’s say this child has been in a serious car accident and crushed the side of his face. With 3D images, plastic surgeons can rebuild this child’s face within fractional accuracy. I am going to highly encourage our KidID docs to acquire that system and use it.”

Chastant emphasizes that doctors who are sincere about high-end technology are diligently looking for better ways to help patients, which includes examining studies and making thoughtful decisions. “I used to be the guy that was always the first one to try new technology,” Chastant admits. “Today, I don’t want to subject my practice to anything that may hamper a treatment plan or present a product that has not been tested adequately for durability and effectiveness.”

Chastant introduced diode lasers to his practice almost 6 years ago, and temporary anchorage devices even earlier. It’s all enough to make the Louisiana-based orthodontist envy the younger orthodontists who have been able to take advantage of high technology throughout their relatively short careers.

Equine Endeavors

While simultaneously running KidID along with a busy orthodontic practice is not an easy task, the 58-year-old Chastant has no intention of retiring anytime soon. However, when that day comes, he will no doubt continue to indulge a passion for horsemanship that encompasses a serious interest in show riding.

After increasingly better orthodontic technology helped him free up spare time at the practice, Chastant got back into the horseback riding of his youth a few years ago, and now owns 11 Peruvian horses. Known for their unusually smooth gait (“like riding on a cloud,” Chastant says) the South American equines have spawned a devoted subculture that includes shows almost every month.

Applying the same diligence that made Chastant Orthodontics and KidID a success, Chastant and his wife now regularly take first or second place in competitions throughout the southern United States. Chastant is putting the finishing touches on a new barn that sits on a 26-acre site. After he sells his current home, he and his wife will live in an apartment at the barn.

Horsemanship requires training, patience, and a willingness to try new things—all traits that Chastant has applied to his profession and his endeavors with KidID. Just as continual refinement of the Peruvian bloodline has brought a remarkable stability to the breed, so too has technology improved the business of creating smiles and fostering better self-images. “I have been riding horses since I was a youngster, and it has taught me responsibility,” Chastant says. “I’m a cowboy. I love my rural life. That’s my hobby and second passion. It’s my love right after God, my wife, children, and making a difference in children’s lives.”

Greg Thompson is a contributing writer for Orthodontic Products.