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Jeremy Kay, DMD, is an expert in cosmetic and implant dentistry, and he specializes in complex cases requiring a level of care and expertise beyond the limitations of general dentistry. But that career might never have happened if Kay hadn't recognized he was not going to rise in the national tennis rankings alongside Andy Roddick.
Dentistry is about being a good mechanic, figuring it out, and explaining to the patients what’s best for them.
He was a nationally ranked tennis player while growing up in South Florida, and rallied with the likes of Andy Roddick before his climb to national fame.
But even then, Jeremy Kay, DMD, recognized that he did not have the skill set to compete at that level.
“I really enjoyed it,” says Kay, who today, at age 32, is the leader of The Dental Spa in Philadelphia. “It was more than a hobby. I loved to play, and I still love to play.”
Instead, he’s serving up aces in dentistry as he has already become well known for his complete smile makeovers.
Despite his love for tennis, Kay says he always had a passion for dentistry, in no small part thanks to his father who is a prosthodontist. The senior Kay brought his son to his office while in grade school, enabling him to visualize the impact he could one day have on people’s lives.
“It was a huge influence on me,” Kay says. “As I got older I explored other things, like finance and medicine, but none of them made the day go by fast. Whenever I was in a dental office I knew that was where I wanted to be.”
But how does someone so relatively young take of the reins of highly successful dental practice? Kay says the stars were all aligned, adding that, “It’s better to be lucky than good.”
Which is not to say Kay isn’t good at his craft. But connecting with one of his teachers from The University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine at a time when Kay and his wife were “romanticizing” about moving back to Philadelphia demonstrated how timing can mean everything. His teacher was nearing the end of a long and wonderful career, so he hooked Kay up with his partner of nearly 30 years and everything clicked.
“As soon as we met we knew that it would be a perfect marriage,” Kay says. “We all enjoy each other, and we all learn from each other. And it all stemmed from my relationship with my teacher and his respect for me as a student.”
As Kay approaches his one-year anniversary since taking over as head of The Dental Spa, he has already had phrases linked with him and the practice. Phrases like “smile architect” and how he considers each patient’s “dental properties.” Kay says those philosophies come from the many mentors he’s been fortunate to associate with.
“I was fortunate to be mentored by some very intellectual people who really taught me that dentistry is more philosophical than technical,” he explains. “And I probably say that at least once a day.”
Kay says he takes a big picture approach to dentistry. He tries to visualize each patient’s situation, asking himself, “What’s going to happen next?” in order to prevent that next thing from occurring. That approach of looking at the emergent things that might occur, Kay says, saves patients time and money. In some respects, he equates it to having foresight and, in some respects, being a good auto mechanic.
“If you’ve ever had to change the tires on a car, you know if you only change one tire the car is never going to run right,” Kay explains. “[Dentistry] is about being a good mechanic, figuring it out, and explaining to the patients what’s best for them.”
When Kay completed dental school, he and a colleague wanted to explore different cultures and help serve an impoverished community. An opportunity arose through the University Of Pennsylvania to go to Da Nang, Vietnam. They jumped at the opportunity and spent a month waking at six every morning to do sealants and provide dental care for many of the underserved communities in that part of the world.
“It was truly enriching, and they were very appreciative,” Kay recalls.
But it was also educational, Kay says, providing people of the region an education that he hopes will serve them the rest of their lives. It also made Kay some of the things westerners often take for granted.
“It gave us an even greater sense of empathy,” he says. “We had to develop our own ways of communicating with some of these people because we couldn’t speak the language. So we were learning alongside them, and it was very enriching.”
Kay also carries with him life lessons from his time on the tennis court. One of those lessons is about commitment. He rose every morning at seven and “worked my tail off” to try and become better.
“I didn’t have the skill of an Andy Roddick or some of those guys who were natural-born athletes, so I outworked a lot of my opponents,” Kay says. “I think that contributed to some of my success, and helped from a life lessons standpoint.”
Kay continues to educate and help others. His practice was recently featured twice on a new TLC show, “Say Yes: Wedding SOS,” where he was asked to help some couples who needed dental work ranging from minor touch-ups to heavy reconstruction. The goal was to help them feel comfortable when they smile at their wedding, something Kay was very familiar with.
“I just got married to my long-time sweetheart two years ago, so I know how often they made us smile and look at each other,” he says. “I know the experience those photographers and the people involved with the wedding put you under. So you want to be confident, and you want to display your best sense of self. I felt very privileged to do the show.”
By his own admission, becoming an exceptional aesthetic dentist and helping people is part of what fuels Kay’s passion and spirit.
“It’s not always about the task at hand,” he says. “It’s the process of growing, and creating a new experience for my patients.”
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