By Kim Walter -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Out of the three dentists in the Shenandoah Valley that made the "Best of Virginia 2012" edition of Virginia Living, the top two practice in our own backyard.
Dr. Stephen French, named the number one dentist in the valley, practices in Woodstock, and Dr. Harry Heard's office is in Front Royal. Neither realized they had made the list until the magazine was shown to them in person.
Virginia Living magazine surveys their readers and divides the results amongst five regions in the state to create a best of list on everything from dining to doing. The Shenandoah Valley region ranges from Winchester and Frederick County south to Craig County.
French grew up in Woodstock and has been practicing there for around 30 years, he said, and has seen generations of families as patients. His practice is currently taking new patients. Heard has been in Front Royal since 1996, but has been practicing for 34 years.
Both men expressed gratitude in being recognized, but cited their staff as a large part of making their practices known and inviting.
"It's a nice surprise and very flattering, but it's arbitrary," Heard said. "Without my staff, assistants, lab technicians ... I'm worthless."
French and Heard both attended VCU for their medical studies, but it wasn't without some words of caution from professors. They worried that dentistry was a dying profession with the growing use of fluoride.
"We had trouble finding cavities and other work to do so we could graduate," Heard said. However, once the strong advertisement of Coke, Pepsi and Mountain Dew came into use, things shifted into a dismal direction.
"Now we've got a wildfire of cavities," he said.
French said his practice is "almost over the top" with their prevention efforts.
"Brushing isn't enough, we push flossing a lot," he said. "A lot of it is just getting patients on board when they're young. If people take care of themselves and do what they're told, they tend to like coming to see me a bit more."
The dentists have seen several dramatic changes in their profession over the past three decades, including an increase in the use of technology.
French has noticed a "big push" in cosmetic dentistry.
"People want the nice smile," he said. "But a lot of the time they'd rather have the outside look good instead of taking care of the internal problems. I personally don't feel comfortable doing a big cosmetic change if the patient has a host of actual issues that need fixing."
Heard said that since becoming a dentist, the biggest change he's seen among patients is a dramatic increase in clenching and grinding teeth. French mentioned the same epidemic.
"People are more stressed, and they're doing it without even realizing it," Heard said, and added that teeth should only touch when chewing.
Folks might also be surprised at the amount of things dentists can tell about them, just by looking in their mouths.
"I can tell if you're anemic, diabetic, taking anti-depressants, pregnant...," Heard listed. "Statistics show that people who take care of their mouths live an average of 10 years longer than those that don't."
French said it's important to him -- and all dentists -- to make sure each individual problem is addressed when dealing with a patient.
"There are certain procedures, yes, but you need to help someone one step at a time to ensure a lasting impact," he said.
Every so often, Heard will do a charity case for someone who needs dental work of some kind, but can't necessarily afford the procedure.
"I noticed the woman I buy my paper from every morning didn't really smile. I later found out that she needed help, but was struggling with money and already working two jobs," he said.
"Well, I gave her my card and she called me. I did the work for no charge, and it was an immediate makeover. She looked at her new teeth and started sobbing and hugging me ... now when I see her she gives me this big grin every time," Heard said with a smile.
French, who was always more interested in the environmental side of science, said certain moments really make his job worth it.
"It's very rewarding when a patient has that light bulb go off," he said. "A healthy mouth goes hand in hand with a healthy body."