Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Dental Practice of Community Service

Salim Dove, 13, was in need of a little dental work Thursday, and the best dentist to do the job was his father, Dr. Joseph Dove, who is building his clientele in the Raleigh-Frayser community. Certified dental assistant Kemba Suggars gives the doctor a helping hand. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
   It was only 8 o’clock on a Thursday morning and already the lobby was abuzz with patients waiting to see Dr. Joseph F. Dove at Dove Family Dentistry in the Raleigh-Frayser community. After the patient’s name was called, he or she was escorted through the door that separates the lobby from the hall leading to Dr. Dove’s world of family dentistry.
    Several of the rooms were already occupied with patients needing any number of procedures that Dr. Dove and his colleague, Dr. Philip A. Carter, offer: extractions, root canals, cleaning, fillings, implants, veneers, tooth whitening, periodontal therapy, and many other preventive and cosmetic restorations.
    Dr. Dove has been practicing dentistry for 13 years, six of them in the office complex at 3030 Covington Pike, Suite 150. At 40, he’s building a practice that’s starting to look like a community. Seventy percent of his patients are African American, he said; the rest is Latino. In fact, the neon sign in the window advertises his service to Spanish-speaking patients: “Se Habla Espanol,” which means “Spanish is spoken.”
   Dr. Dove himself speaks a little Spanish and some members of his staff are bilingual as well. “We want everybody to come see us. But our targeted patients are those who traditionally don’t go to see a dentist,” he says. “We’re trained to serve the underserved community, which is our community. There is a lack in a lot of areas, so we try to fill the gap in this area.”
   The Hispanic population in Shelby County is growing exponentially according to recent estimates ascertained by The University of Memphis. Based on U.S. Census figures, Hispanics comprise about 4.5 percent of Shelby Countians, or at least 60,000 to 100,000 -- legal or illegal -- the U of M estimates. The unofficial count could inflate that number even higher.
   The area where Dr. Dove has anchored his dental practice is rife for serving his Spanish-speaking clientele. It is a Hispanic neighborhood where businesses other than Dove Family Dentistry is anchored along Covington Pike near Stage Road and cater both to the emerging Hispanic population and African Americans at-large.
   “We found Memphis to be an area in need of quality and minority professionals,” says Dr. Dove, who was born in Detroit and lived in other cities including Idaho and Texas. He graduated high school in Spring, Texas, in 1986; joined the United States Army in 1987; served two years in active duty and five in the Army Reserves; graduated from the University of Texas-Arlington with a Bachelor of Science in Biology; and then from Meharry Medical College in Nashville with a Doctorate of Dental Surgery.
   “I went to the military to go to school,” says Dr. Dove, whose parents, particularly his father, instilled into their eight children the importance of getting a good education. His father led by example and obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in Detroit. Two years later, he’d become proficient in computers.
   “We came up the hard way in Detroit. Nobody gave us anything,” says Dr. Dove, who watched as his father blazed a path for his children to follow. “He had eight children in the ‘70s and managed to obtained a Bachelor’s degree from Wayne State. Then he was able to go into computer programming and worked in Saudi Arabia for 15 years as a computer engineer systems analyst. He retired early.”
   The methodology that Dr. Dove’s father used to motivate his children to seek loftier goals in life has paid off in big dividends. Two other children are doctors as well: a sister who also has a dental practice, in Atlanta, and another sister who is a podiatrist in Las Vegas, where both parents work part time.
   “They are persevering and still together after 41 years,” says Dr. Dove, who has been married to Francine Dove for 16 years. They are the parents of three boys: Salim, 15, a ninth-grader at St. Benedict at Auburndale in Cordova; Naseem, 11, a sixth-grader at Emmanuel Lutheran in the Raleigh community; and Musa, 7, a second-grader, also at Emanuel Lutheran.
   What his father did to encourage him and his siblings, he is doing the same for his boys, even if they want to pursue the field of dentistry. “If they want to follow in my footsteps, fine, but pass me. Go farther. Don’t limit yourself,” he tells them. “But don’t take the short cut. It can come back to bite you.”
   Talking to children and mentoring them is a service that Dr. Dove takes seriously. It is an extension of his commitment to community service, which is an integral part of his dental practice. He volunteers quality time at Jackson Elementary, his adopted school.
   When questions are raised by the students, he answers them with honesty and complete frankness. He engages them like he would his own children in hopes of piquing their interest in higher education and a career pursuit. Dreams can be manifested, he tells them.
   “[President Barack] Obama showed you can dream the impossible,” he says. “So we continue to mentor and challenge them so they can grab a hold of their dreams.”
   But not all children aspire to greatness or have the available resources to help catapult them out of the muck of poverty, stagnation, lethargy, quick fixes and the ill-pursuit of material possessions. The pursuit of materialism and instant gratification, he says, is fleeting.
   “They forget the work that goes into achieving anything. You got to work at it. You got to turn the TV off; pick up a book.”
   So when Dr. Dove combines dentistry, mentorship and community service, he’s certain that this trifecta would motivate his patients, particularly the children ages 13-18, to forge ahead with more than a toothy smile. His mission: “to bring something different to the table, to open doors, provoke thoughts, provoke questions.”
   “We educate patients (including reluctant men) half of the day,” he says.
   Although more men, rather than women, have been known to avoid the doctor’s office, Dr. Dove tries to change that mindset to prevent the possibility of ill-health.” Brothers especially don’t go to the dentist unless something is hurting,” he says. “By capturing them with a toothache, we can educate them on a lot of things. We’d even send them back to their medical doctor for a checkup.”
   Dr. Dove says his approach to dentistry is driven by his personality. He is friendly, affable and has a genuine concern for his patients’ wellness and welfare. “Tomorrow is not promised,” he says. “You’re going to get old someday. We all have to keep striving as long as we’re vertical.”
   Dove Family Dentistry is open Monday through Saturday. Evening appointments are available as well. Call 901-213-9337.

(This story was first published in the Raleigh community newsletter, "It's All About Raleigh.")

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