A Georgia dentist was inspired by his childhood dentist to make a career in oral health.
Every now and then someone comes along who plants that seed within us; a seed that germinates and propels us into a promising career.
That was the case for Steven Wingfield, DMD, who specializes in general, cosmetic and implant dentistry in Buckhead and midtown Atlanta, GA. As a young child he was always intrigued by the work his dentist did, and recalls the encouragement he received from all his questions.
“I hope you’re going to grow up some day and take over my practice,” says Wingfield, recalling the words of his childhood dentist. “I’m going to need a good doctor just like you.”
In particular, Wingfield admired the way he combined the art and science of being a dentist. One event that stands out in his mind was during his high school years when he observed his dentist remove a woman’s teeth and deliver an immediate denture, same day.
“The lady’s tears were running down her face, she was so thankful to be able to smile again,” Wingfield says. “That was one of the defining moments that made me decide to pursue a career in dentistry.”
And what a career it has been.
Wingfield actually launched his career with the United States Navy Dental Corps. His father was a fireman and his mother a teacher.
“They didn’t have the financial means to put me through dental school,” Wingfield explains. “So I went looking for ways to have it paid.”
He found what is now known as the Health Profession Scholarship Program. He graduated with top honors from its Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency program, which enabled him to work through all aspects of dentistry, including periodontics, endodontics and oral surgery.
“I couldn’t have picked a better way to do it, and amongst a better group of professionals than in the Navy Dental Corps.”
During his four years of service, Wingfield served on the forward deployed Bravo Surgical Company in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“We were attached to a marine division,” Wingfield says. “What that means is you’re on the ground. You’re on the front lines as the war first starts. And there are things that I never thought I would see—heads blown off, legs blown off. It was absolutely a scary time.”
But it was also educational. Wingfield encountered a young Iraqi boy who had suffered severe facial injuries from flying shrapnel after his parents had stepped on a land mine. There were no oral maxillofacial surgeons present, so Wingfield and his colleagues were responsible for treating all facial trauma.
“I’ll never forget him, and I’m thankful I was able to help him,” Wingfield says. “I don’t even know his name, but I would love to know where he is today. It was definitely a career-shaping event.”
Wingfield received numerous awards, including a Navy Commendation Medal and two Navy Achievement Medals, for his time served.
Wingfield may practice in two locations in the greater Atlanta area, but he literally has his hands in more than those two practices. Nineteen, to be exact. Ten in the Atlanta area, and nine in Houston. Together with his partner Ken Tralongo, DDS, he helps a group of doctors and dental hygienists shape their career.
“I got into [owning dental practices] after I got out of the Navy,” Wingfield explains. “I joined a group practice here in Atlanta, and I told the owner, Dr. Johnston, who interviewed me, ‘I want to lead a large group of doctors, and shape the future of dentistry, and do innovative things besides just being a dentist every day.’”
That goal came to fruition. Wingfield says while he loves being a dentist, he also gets a great deal of fulfillment from education; from helping dentists and other dental professionals improve their quality of life, improve their income, and provide patients better access to care. To that end, Wingfield says he was fortunate to have worked for Dr. Johnston.
“He was probably the most generous mentor anyone could have,” he explains. “He taught me pretty much everything I know about running a business. And he let me put a bunch of my crazy ideas to work, like opening at 7 a.m. and staying open until 7 p.m., and being open on Saturdays and having a call center. Just trying to be advocates for our people, and our patients.”
Wingfield’s approach to dentistry is evidence-based, with a focus on helping patients achieve balanced oral and systemic health. It’s the link between oral bacteria and the negative effects of heart disease, stroke and other medical conditions that drives him.
“When you’re leading a large group of dentists, at some point you have to decide what your real philosophy of care is going to be,” Wingfield says. “And what we all decided from the very beginning is we’re going to base this off what the scientific evidence says, and then treat patients. It’s more of an allopathic approach to the treatment of patients. But we look at it based on the patients’ needs, their wants, their desires, and their budget. And we use the best scientifically backed evidence-based dentistry that’s out there today in order to provide them with that level of care they wish to receive.”
One of Wingfield’s other passions is traveling.
“I guess I’m probably gone from home 80% or 90% of the time,” he admits.
Are there places on his bucket list that he’d like to visit? Wingfield laughs, noting that there are “lots of places,” and puts Thailand, Hong Kong, and Buenos Aires at the top of that list.
As for being thankful, Wingfield says his day is made when he receives correspondence from a dentist or hygienist who has worked within his organization stating, “You spent the time teaching me about business, and literally changed my life.”
He says he’s been “extraordinarily blessed professionally, financially and personally” through his work in dentistry.
“I just couldn’t think of another thing I’d rather be doing.”