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All in the Family

Published on: Mar 30, 2022
 By: The New Dentist
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Does dentistry run in your family?

For Drs. Steve Frost, Maria Lopez Howell and Sinead McEnhill, it certainly does. They all have strong family ties to dentistry and saw, from a very young age, the many benefits the profession provides. To them, there really wasn’t any other option: they were meant to be dentists.

These clinicians have dads, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, even spouses and in-laws, who chose the same profession—giving them a built-in support system of people who understand their career choice and what it takes to be a successful dentist. That network, combined with the strong role models who sparked their interest in dentistry, has played a role in shaping their careers and helping them achieve the success they know today. 

Growing up dental

There are 13 dentists in Dr. Howell’s family, including her aunt, cousins, uncle, sister and her husband. It all started back in the 1950s with her aunt and then her uncle, who her dad sent money from Texas so he could afford to go to dental school in Mexico.

Dr. Howell credits her aunt with getting her interested in dentistry, and remembers visiting the office in a small border town in Mexico. It sat on the second floor, above one of her grandfather’s businesses and adjacent to the family’s primary house quarters. Dr. Howell and her cousins would play in the reception area, which is where they were first introduced to dentistry. Eventually, Dr. Howell and her sister started interacting with the patients, translating for them when necessary.

Of the six girl cousins who spent so much time in that reception area, four of them are now dentists, including Dr. Howell and her sister. Not only that, four of the nine family dentists married dental school classmates.

“My amazing aunt was ahead of her time. She truly loved what she did and we all wanted to be like her,” Dr. Howell said. “When you see someone really happy with what they’re doing, and you love and respect that person, I think there is something within you that makes you want to emulate that person.”

Dr. Frost and his identical twin brother also grew up around someone who loved being a dentist: their dad. They saw the benefits a career in dentistry afforded, including the fact their father pretty much set his own schedule. He could take off when he needed to, and never missed any of their events. The brothers also loved the fact their father was always helping people, and found the service element an attractive part of the profession.

They went to their first dental convention when they were 14, Dr. Frost said, and got to see the different products and “everything related to helping people change their smiles.” That’s when they knew for sure they’d follow in their father’s footsteps. Today, Dr. Frost is a successful endodontist and works about a mile away from his brother, who is an orthodontist.

“Our father was a really great dentist for 40 years and was a great example of what can take place when you give a profession 100 percent effort,” Dr. Frost said. “Our dad made such an impact on others. We looked at that and said hey, we want to be like him.”

Dr. McEnhill spent a lot of time in her father’s practice growing up, as did her three brothers. All four are dentists, along with her uncle and a few cousins. She worked in the practice, located in Northern Ireland, as a dental nurse. Dr. McEnhill and her siblings liked the fact the profession involved science and that it allowed them to have a 9 to 5 schedule. They have practices near each other in Northern Ireland, where their family name is pretty well known.

“We all grew up around it,” Dr. McEnhill said. “It just seemed like the logical choice.”

Added support

While Dr. Frost doesn’t work in the same practice as his brother, they did go to dental school together and spend a lot of time collaborating outside of the office. Through what they call “the circle of trust,” the doctors talk about best business practices and how to create exceptional patient experiences, sharing what has worked well in their offices and what hasn’t.

“We basically try to help each other succeed,” Dr. Frost said. “That’s the biggest and best thing. We’re in different specialties so we don’t really compete. The ability for us to work together and share ideas on patient care has been pretty fun and pretty powerful.”

Dr. Frost does work directly with a family member in his practice—his brother-in-law, who’s his partner. Because they’re family, they have a deeper trust and are more aligned in the way they approach both the business and patient care, he said.

Dr. Howell has never worked directly with her sister or cousins, but said they all have a deep respect for each other and connection because of their shared profession. She does, however, work with her husband, who is also a dentist. She met him in dental school and it just made sense for them to practice together. They complement each other well and enjoy the time they spend together in the practice.

“It’s been great for our relationship and for our financial well-being,” Dr. Howell said. “All the profits go to one place and the collaboration is wonderful. No one wants you to succeed for the family business like your own spouse.”

In Dr. McEnhill’s family, three of the siblings have their own practices while one of her brothers works with her most of the time. Now that they’ve built their practices up, they’re all buying offices together. With corporations taking over many dental offices in the area, they wanted to offer their area something different, she said.

“We all did post graduate work in different specialties so we’re able to complement each other with our expertise,” she said. “And there just seems to be a shortage of privately run, high-end group practices, so creating that has become our focus.”

The siblings also push each other to be better dentists, with what Dr. McEnhill describes as a “healthy competition” among them. They all have big ideas and high standards, and want to perform the best dentistry possible.

Creating a legacy

All three dentists chose to become part of this profession because they saw the great quality of life and professional rewards it offers. In Dr. Frost’s case, two of his sons intend to continue the family tradition. Both are in dental school, and he’s just as proud of them as his father was of him and his brother.

“It makes you feel good when people want to do what you do because they believe it’s something worthwhile,” Dr. Frost said. “In life, when you talk about leaving a legacy, it’s not about doing 50,000 root canals in your career. It’s about the legacy we pass down to our kids and our grandkids. There’s no better feeling as a father than to see them and know they’re headed into one of the greatest professions in the world.”

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