'I Don't Work In My Practice. I Work For My Practice'

Joanne Rief, D.D.S., has been practicing dentistry for 31 years. But it never gets old — especially when it comes to returning smiles to her patients’ faces. And it doesn’t matter if she’s treating patients in her Maryland office, or on the Galapagos Islands. Rief is a purpose-driven dentist who does not shy away from hard work.

When it comes to dentistry, it’s a generational issue for Joanne Rief, D.D.S. That’s because Rief is a third-generation dentist, following in her father’s and great uncle’s footsteps.

But there was no pressure to become a dentist. Instead, the only guidance she received was to steer clear of education.

“My father said, ‘We’ll pay for you to go to college, and you can major in whatever you want except teaching, because teachers are a dime a dozen,’” Rief recalls.

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She listened. Now, 31 years later, and after practicing with her father for 18 years in Annapolis, Maryland, Rief has her own practice in Owings Mills. It’s satisfying, she says, but it didn’t come easily.

“It comes from a lot of very hard work,” Rief says. “My motto is, I don’t work in my practice. I work for my practice.”

REACHING THE CROSSROADS

Rief’s practice, Crossroads Dental Arts, is appropriately named in many respects. Crossroads is the name of the medical complex in which the practice is located. But it also reflects Rief’s training and approach to oral health.

“The man I bought my practice from used to do a lot of cosmetic dentistry,” Rief says. “He was trained at LVI (Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies). So, he kind of urged me to learn more about cosmetics because he knew patients demanded that.”

Rief took the advice, and trained in cosmetic and neuromuscular dentistry at LVI. She says that level of dentistry matches her mindset.

“I’m a very creative type of person, and I want to use my creativity to design people’s smiles,” she explains.

Soon after, Rief began doing Invisalign. She’s found that using the clear retainers to help move patients’ teeth has reduced the amount of cosmetic dentistry she performs.

“Once the teeth are moved, they need (crowns and veneers) much less,” she says.

MENTORING AND ETHICS

Rief is a fellow in the International College of Dentists. As part of that association, she participates in teaching ethics to third-year dental students at The University of Maryland Dental School.

Last year, she and the students worked on a case where a physician was going on sabbatical, and went to a dentist and asked that his insurance be billed the following year for work being done during the current year. Basically, he was asking the dentist to help him out.

“Obviously, it’s not ethical to do that,” Rief explains. “So that’s the kind of dilemma where we talk to the students about what they would do in situations like that.”

Rief is also a member of the dean’s faculty at The University of Maryland Dental School where she mentors dental students at The Access Carroll Dental Clinic. She says the students want to know what the “real world” is like, and what skills they should develop to be successful in their careers.

“We chat about the real world, because the dental school world is very different from the real world; very, very different,” Rief says. “Things that are kind of taught in dental school don’t always translate to what you’re going to see in the practice of dentistry outside of dental school.”

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She also lectures and developed a Powerpoint for dental students and residents on how to operate a profitable practice. Her discussion focuses on key steps practices can take to avoid problems in the area of accounts receivable.

“Mentoring these dental students and residents gives me great satisfaction,” Rief says, “because I know it’s something I could have used more of when I was younger.”

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GIVING BACK

Rief has also traveled to the Galapagos Islands to perform dental missionary work. Prepared to conduct extractions and fillings, she was taken aback by what she saw.

“Their teeth were actually brown,” she says. “I mean really brown. Like their smile was brown. And they certainly couldn’t afford to have cosmetic dentistry done.”

Rief was able to remove much of the dark areas from patients’ teeth, giving them a much more pleasing smile.

“We treated about 250 patients in three days with only three dentists and two hygienists,” she says. “It was a great feeling to be able to do that for them.”

Locally, Rief provides free dentistry to patients at numerous Mission of Mercy projects around the state. She says it’s a great feeling to be able to connect with these people, and takes before and after photos of some of the people smiling to post on social media.

“We want our patients to know we care about what’s going on outside our little practice,” Rief says. “And I come home knowing I’ve done a service for patients who can’t afford they work they want or need done.”

In addition, Rief will contact a couple of patients each year who may have lost their jobs, or can’t afford necessary dental work, and tell them that Christmas is coming early, and the practice wants to treat them to the work they need.

“We transform their lives,” she says. “That’s most rewarding.”

WHAT MATTERS MOST

Rief’s peers voted her Baltimore’s Top Dentist in 2013 and 2014. The recognition, she says, is something she has always strived for.

“I always said I wanted to be one of Baltimore’s best,” she says. “It was a great feeling.”

But the most rewarding feeling is giving patients back their smiles. She explains that patients are often trying to find jobs, but sometimes face ridicule if they’re missing a tooth or their teeth are not aligned properly.

“We help these people,” Rief says. “We’re giving them their smile back. And we’re really changing their lives.”

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