"the best part of my practice is that each patient is unique. They may have the same destination: a beautiful smile, but their path will be completely different."
Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what do you do?
My name is Reese, I am 33 years old and live in Charleston, SC, with my wife and 3 kids. I started an orthodontic practice, Reese Orthodontics, about 3 years ago from scratch and started building up. All along I have been forging connections with people in the area, learning about what marketing means for my business, and developing relationships with other dentists.
What does your typical day look like as an orthodontist?
It is pretty nice. I can decide my own hours and what time I want to start for the day. Typically, most offices start early because they want to get kids in before school starts. Most offices open between 7 am and 8 am. Between 8-10 in the morning, an orthodontist will typically have anywhere between 5-20 appointments. These range from 20 minutes to one hour. An hour would obviously be putting on braces where as a 20 minute appointment would be making adjustments like putting on or fixing a wire. Most children are seen in the morning. The great thing is I can spend a lot of time developing a relationship with the parent and talking with the child while I get everything I need to done on the patient. Sometimes I will have consults where we just talk with someone about whether they should or shouldn’t get braces.
Orthodontists typically have longer lunch breaks, sometimes between 12:30 - 2:30. We can use that time to build relationships with other dental offices and to build referrals. Typically, I work through lunch to be available to see a lot of adults that like to come during their lunch break. Around 2:30 the chaos begins. My afternoon is my most valuable time, and I will have many 15-20 minute appointments - emergencies, changing wires for patients, rubberbands, and 1 or 2 consults.
I work with children and adults who want my service so they are generally happy to be there. I leave around 5pm. Some orthodontists will start later in the morning and have more time after school. It depends on how you want to structure your schedule.
What is the most challenging aspect about your job?
The best part of my practice that is that each patient is unique. They may have the same destination: a beautiful smile, but their path will be completely different. Figuring out the shortest way to achieve that goal is the challenge. The key to orthodontics is not making mistakes, and if you can prevent that, then the treatment time is shorter and results are better. Each patient presents unique problems, and you try to figure out how to solve them. I have to figure out each case and the best way to proceed. It is a fun challenge and I am always learning.
The toughest part of my job is the business side of my practice, whether it is managing staff, paying taxes, marketing, learning how to gain business. Practicing isn’t too much stress, and there are very few emergencies. By the time you finish college, dental school, and complete your residency, you have learned your trade well. The business side brings more day-to-day stress than the orthodontics.
When did you know this is what you wanted to do? /Why did you want to pursue this career?
I majored in Economics and Spanish. I was either going to be an economics professor or trade stocks. While I was studying abroad learning Spanish for international business, I realized I didn’t love traveling for work, and I didn’t want someone to tell me what to do with my life. I’d rather be my own boss. Knowing that I wasn’t going to come up with an ingenious product and that I didn't have any current technical skills or experience, I figured medicine was the way to go. I knew going into the dentistry field that I could have my own practice and make my own decisions. It was my senior year of college when I made the decision to start taking pre-requisites and started studying for the DAT- Dental Admission Test. I took the DAT in the fall after I graduated, applied to dental school, and got in at the Medical University of South Carolina.
Fast forward three years, I was in dental school and the next to last year I needed to determine what I was going to do next. I wasn’t interested in general dentistry and thought I would do oral surgery. I did an externship and realized I did not want to do that. I didn’t know anything about orthodontics at the time except for the fact that braces make your teeth straighter. I saw surgery cases throughout my externship where patients who had other issues such as a cleft-lip were also wearing braces. I realized they needed braces prior to surgery and realized that braces is more than just straightening your teeth. I did an externship with an orthodontist because I hadn’t had any experience with it in dental school. I figured that I would experience orthodontics in residency and then if I felt that I it wasn’t for me I could fall back on general dentistry. Once I began my residency I realized I liked it. I liked the planning aspect of it, the problem solving, and of course ,making people smile.
How many years of schooling/what program did you go to?
You don’t have to major in a science. I actually don’t recommend that. You should do something that you enjoy, but that is well rounded. It doesn’t necessarily have to be pre-med. Plan on studying for the DAT for a summer. So, 4 years of college and 4 years of dental school. I went to Clemson University in SC and then went to MUSC in Charleston, SC, for 4 years for dental school. After 4 years of dental school, I moved to Oklahoma City, OK, and attended the University of Oklahoma for my Orthodontic residency for 2.5 years. Most orthodontic residencies range from 2-3 years in length.
I moved home to Greenville, SC, and had our first kid. About a year after graduation I settled on my location and opened up my doors in Charleston, SC.
What is the biggest misconception people have about what you do?
There are two misconceptions that I deal with on a daily basis. There is a misconception among the general public that there is not a difference between orthodontists. Many people think that every orthodontist is the same. They may see someone with straight teeth and a pretty smile, but as an orthodontist, I can tell a difference. Their smile could be so much better, and most people don't know what they could have looked like otherwise.
From other professionals, they believe that orthodontics is not hard work. It is difficult to do good orthodontics. The tendency is to think that the teeth magically become straight once you put braces on, but it is difficult to get great results. It is a misconception that orthodontics is easy - that you just have to get through residency, and once you get through, that you can relax. In reality, it is difficult to do good work and have great results. A lot of focus goes into it.
What is the work/family/life balance like?
Among any profession, orthodontics is the best. If you keep your debt and student loans under control, you have the ability to work 3-4 days a week with a month of vacation. I would rather have time off than new things. I know many orthodontists who work 3 days a week. When is enough money enough? My goals are time with my family and to enjoy life. Orthodontics allows you to take time off if you want it. There really aren’t emergencies that a staff couldn’t handle, but at the same time there is no way to replace my position without great challenges. When you aren’t in the office, you don’t get paid. It actually costs you to keep things running, so it’s not just leaving work and getting paid vacation. Because you have to see everyone once a month, leaving would put people out of treatment for too long and paying for someone else to see your patients would be similar to a surgeon jumping out in the middle of an operation.
Family life is great in terms of day to day life. You can make enough to work 3 or 4 days a week and live a comfortable lifestyle. Or you could be a slave and miss out on life and make millions. The opportunity for money and family is there. We are paying our bills, and life is good!
What are your long term goals with your career/practice?
I would like to have a practice where there is no worry about paying bills, provides a good income from my family, and hire more staff members. If our practice grows the way it is currently growing, we will be there within the next 5 years. Having a practice with maybe 3 or 4 staff members and living a comfortable lifestyle with time to focus on my family is my ultimate goal.