Smiles and ice inspired to perfection
What can you tell us about your background?
I grew up in a large family — I am the third child of nine children. I have three brothers and five sisters. Since my father was in the army as a West Point graduate and member of the Army Corps of Engineers, I grew up in many different places. I was born in Fort Ord, California and as a child lived in Indiana, Maryland, Europe, and the Middle East. However, I spent a large part of my childhood in Maryland, outside of Washington, DC.
As a child, I learned to ice skate and developed an interest in figure skating, which became my first passion. I became a competitive pair’s skater, and my first partner was my sister, Ann-Marie. She and I competed at the Junior World Championships in 1988 in Australia and in the former Yugoslavia in 1989. When Ann-Marie retired, we were ranked third in the United States and sixth in the world at the junior level. I continued on with two more partners, Laura Murphy (who is now a dental hygienist in Delaware) and Shelby Lyons. My skating career took me to Delaware and then Colorado where I lived and trained at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. I competed at the national level for 13 years and had the most success in my skating career with Shelby. In 1998, we finished second at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship and qualified as members of the U.S. Olympic Team. That year we also competed at the World Figure Skating Championships and finished 10th. I was not able to compete at the Olympics because a team that was injured during the Nationals was “elected” to the Olympic team. This incident led to my retirement from figure skating in the Spring of 1998. This was a devastating experience that led me to rethink my direction and career. But skating taught me when you fall down, you get up and move on.
I was 27 years old and had to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew that I didn’t want to be in a rink. At this time, I decided I wanted to attend dental school and needed to finish my college degree. I moved to New York City and attended CUNY Baruch College. When I retired from figure skating, I was at the pinnacle of my career; it was hard going back to school and just being another undergraduate at a large city college. I went from signing autographs to sharpening pencils. But on my first day of school, a beautiful woman, Maggie, sat down next to me; we married in 2002.
I graduated from Baruch in 2000 with a degree in biology and started dental school at Harvard University in 2001. While at Harvard, I was president of my class and began my passion for dentistry.
I graduated from Harvard in 2005, the year my first child, Olivia, was born. I attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine for my endodontics residency from 2005-2007. Maggie, my wife, finished her internal medicine residency at Tufts while I was there. Maggie, Olivia, and I moved to Florida in 2007 to be near family, and we were quite excited to not have to live through another cold, snowy winter.
I established my practice, Wells, Endodontics, in a standalone building in Wesley Chapel, north of Tampa. I work out of three operatories and have three assistants — Melissa Ng, Cindy Overstreet, and Cralonda Blyden. My front office is staffed by my office manager, Dawn Mastrino and my sister, MaryBeth Wells. Another sister, Ann-Marie Dorsey (my first pair’s partner) is my marketing manager. My wife is the brains of the operation and the person I have lunch with every day. My semi-retired, engineer father, Johnny Wells, also is here making sure everything is working well.
When did you become a specialist, and why?
My dental path started when I was very young. I was not a person who said, “I want to be a dentist when I grow up.” There were no dentists or physicians in my family. My mother had made me a Superman cape for Halloween. I knew, as many children do, that the secret of flight is a cape. I tried on my cape and decided to fly upstairs to impress my family with my flying skills. My first flight led to a face plant and impaction of my anterior teeth. This incident led to many years in the dental chair. As a teenager, I had a number of tooth-related issues that required the expertise of an oral surgeon. I was very fortunate to be in contact with Raymond Fonseca, DMD — the Dean at the University of Pennsylvania. I was so impressed with his extensive knowledge, skill, and respect in the community that it opened my eyes to a possible career in a dental specialty. This was reinforced the first time I stepped onto Harvard’s campus and met Jarshen Lin, DMD, the Director of Undergraduate Endodontics. After spending time with him, I realized that endodontics was a perfect fit for me and my personality.
Is your practice limited solely to endodontics, or do you practice other types of dentistry?
My practice is limited solely to both surgical and nonsurgical endodontics. Because the art of diagnosis can be challenging, I have also become the “tooth whisperer” with difficult facial pain situations. I can’t solve all pains, but can at least rule out ones related to root issues.
Why did you decide to focus on endodontics?
As a competitive figure skater, I learned that I was a perfectionist. Endodontics is a specialty measured in millimeters. It allows me to focus on details, while getting people out of pain and saving their teeth. What more could you want?
Do your patients come through referrals?
Yes, the majority of my patients come through referrals from general dentists in my practice area. We do get many patients from word-of-mouth and from online reviews.
How long have you been practicing endodontics, and what systems do you use?
I have been practicing endodontics since 2007. I use a hybrid system to reach the desired result. I love using TDO — The Digital Office software. My workhorse file is a ProTaper Next™. I use Zeiss OPMI® pico microscopes with xenon bulbs. I have ASI carts with NSK electric high/low speed, rotary, and ultrasonic. I use Sybron Elements™ unit for obturation, 3D imaging with Carestream CBCT, and digital sensors. My newest addition is the GentleWave® System by Sonendo®, which I feel is a groundbreaking technology that is serving my practice and my patients very well.
Who has inspired you?
My first and constant inspiration has been my parents, RoseAnn and Johnny Wells. How they managed to raise nine children, including one who was severely disabled, has always impressed me. My parents have always put our needs in front of their own and gave me confidence that I can always be better. No matter how well I was doing in my skating, I always knew the value of a good education. Every one of their children has a college degree with six master’s degrees (or higher) among them. One of the biggest compliments anyone can give me is that I remind them of my father.
My younger sister, JeanMarie, has also been one of my life’s inspirations. She was born with a missing frontal lobe and debilitations so severe that she was given a 5- to-7 year life expectancy. Seeing her fight and survive until she was 28 years old is a testament to my family’s love and her will to fight. Even after her passing, JeanMarie reminds me daily to appreciate the gifts I have and to make the most of them. Throughout my life, I have tried to help other disabled people and families. I have volunteered for Special Olympics ever since I was old enough. As a world-class athlete, I represented athletes on the U.S. Figure Skating Special Olympics Committee. While at Harvard, I established Smiles for Miles with the help of mentors from the pedodontic and endodontic departments. The goal of this organization was to help bring dental care to disabled children. Currently, I throw an annual skating party to promote my office, and we raise money for cerebral palsy research in JeanMarie’s memory.
In dentistry, my inspiration started with Dr. Fonseca prior to school and Dr. Jarshen Lin at Harvard; Drs. Dan Green and Bob Amato at Tufts were my endodontic inspirations.
What is the most satisfying aspect of your practice?
Let’s face it; most people don’t want to have a root canal. They are in my office because they are in pain or have been told they need treatment. Root canals get a bad name in the world for a good reason — either someone has had a bad experience, or they have heard about someone’s bad experience. I try to change this perception, one tooth at a time. It makes my day when someone leaves my office saying, “That’s the best experience I’ve ever had in a dentist’s office.”
What do you think is unique about your practice?
I make a point of spending time with all my patients. I know that this might be the only time I will meet them, and I want to make sure they have a positive experience. I think a well-informed patient is a good patient. I explain every step of the procedure — including drawing in TDO on the radiograph explaining what can be seen. I take pride in making a good experience from the first phone call to a profoundly painless procedure and the personal courtesy call the next day. We have a conservation view from every operatory with bird feeders in every window. The feeders attract many bird species (cardinals, mourning doves, tufted tit mice, blue jays, finches, red-winged blackbirds), squirrels, and raccoons. Sometimes we have deer, wild turkey, and bobcats to entertain us.
What has been your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge has been time management. I see emergencies and children, which create a dynamic in the office that can become very interesting. Meeting these demands in my day sometimes makes it very challenging and fun.
Would you have been if you hadn’t become a dentist?
Having already been a world-class competitive skater, I had the opportunity of doing shows. I spent much of my life coaching skating, which helped pay my way through dental school. Without dentistry, I probably would have stayed in the figure skating world.
What is the future of endodontics and dentistry?
I think previous breakthroughs in endodontics were in “vision” — the microscope and cone beam CT. These are now standard of care for a good root canal. The new frontier, I think, is revolutionizing the irrigation and instrumentation of root canal treatment. The GentleWave technology that I have adopted allows me to conservatively improve my handling of complex anatomy. The results are beautiful.
What are your top tips for maintaining a successful specialty practice?
It is easy to get bogged down with the intricacies of referral patterns, crappy insurances, and difficult cases. It all boils down to good communication with your referrers, your patients, and your staff. I have great professional and some personal relationships with my referring dentists, but I always treat my staff like family. (Many of them are family.)
What advice would you give to a budding endodontist?
I have learned that there is more to quality care than just being able to do a good root canal. Don’t forget the “care” in caregiver — you can’t fake it. Always remember that there is a person underneath the tooth you are working on. I always diagnose before I treat. Buy the best technology — ZEISS scopes, The Digital Office (TDO), CBCT, and the GentleWave System.We have chosen a great profession with a bright future.
What are your hobbies, and what do you do in your spare time?
I like spending as much time as possible with my wife, Maggie, and my four children — Olivia (10), Ian (8), Eva (5), and Owen (3). We love going to the beach and Disney — two huge benefits of living in Florida (both less than an hour away). We are an all-electric Tesla family. I really enjoy holding my wife’s hand skating around a rink.
Top 10 favorites
- Maggie and the kids
- Singing (off-key) to patients while working
- TDO — The Digital Office software
- GentleWave® System by Sonendo®
- Zeiss OPMI® pico microscopes
- Carestream CBCT and sensors
- Sybron Elements™
- ProTaper Next™ files
- Tesla Models S and X
- Indian Rocks Beach