A Smile Makes a Difference
By Dr. Jennifer Buchanan
It has always been my goal to inspire and make a difference in the lives of others. When I was 10 years old, I was being pushed in a wagon and fell face first into the pavement I chipped my front tooth in half and was devastated! I thought I would never smile again. I lost my self-confidence. Since the chip was so large, the dentist had to put a piece of wire to hold the fake portion of the tooth (luckily technology has improved). I was always self-conscious of it. When I was 12 years old I had orthodontic treatment and it changed my life. After orthodontics I was confident and proud of my smile. It inspired me to pursue a career in orthodontics to help others smile and increase their self-esteem.
A devastating event became a defining moment in my life. I truly believe that you can find the silver lining in any situation. Looking for the positive and having the patience for it to reveal itself is a key to happiness and success. Smiling in the face of adversity is critical. Many friends ask me why I am always in a good mood. I believe that looking for what is right in any situation helps to maintain a positive outlook. I know that God has a purpose for everything in our lives, good and bad. During difficult situations I ask myself, “What am I to learn through this?”
To become an orthodontist, it takes 11 years of school after high school. Through high school I developed good study habits and was able to graduate third in my high school class of 628. When I attended the University of Texas at Austin, all of my classmates were at the top of their high school classes. It became more difficult to be at the top of the class. Austin is also a fun city with many distractions, so it took an extra effort to be focused on academics. I never gave up my goal to be an orthodontist.
One of my most complex courses was Organic Chemistry. I failed the class and became discouraged. However, I did not give up my dream. Instead, I retook the class in summer school. Many people would give up their dream and say to themselves that maybe I am not meant to be an orthodontist. It is too difficult. You have to turn the channel of negative thinking and focus on your dream. You need positive self-talk such as, “I am meant to help others and this has always been my goal. I can do it and will stay strong.” This is where the battle is won and lost. Fortunately, my family was very supportive and kept encouraging me to pursue my dream of becoming an orthodontist. Henry Ford said it best, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right! “Your beliefs drive you and become a self-fulfilling prophecy."
There are three dental schools in Texas—UT San Antonio, UT Houston, and Baylor. I grew up in San Antonio and would study at the medical library that was adjacent to the Dental School. I always saw myself as attending dental school in San Antonio. I was accepted to Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas and then to UT Houston. At the time, UT San Antonio did not offer a residency in orthodontics. Both Baylor and UT Houston did have an orthodontic residency. I realized that it was a blessing and that God was leading me in a different direction. I chose Baylor in Dallas. It was such a great decision! Throughout dental school there were many challenges. It was difficult, but I did not give up my vision of becoming an orthodontist.
When I applied to Orthodontic Residency there were 50 programs inthe United States and Canada. Most programs take only five students per year. I decided to apply to them all since I wanted to be an orthodontist first and foremost. There was not a match program where you fill out one application that goes to all schools. Instead I had to fill out 50 separate applications using a typewriter! It took me the whole summer since I do not type!
I was first accepted to the orthodontics residency program in Detroit. I was getting set to attend there when the Baylor Orthodontics Program offered me a position. What a blessing! I wanted to stay in Dallas and Baylor was my #1 choice. My instructors were all world class and encouraged me to be my best.
As part of our orthodontics program at Baylor, we did a master’s thesis research project. My thesis was “The Psychosocial Impact of Orthodontic Treatment”. Recently one of my mentors at Baylor called me and wanted a copy of my thesis since there are students in the orthodontics program that want to continue my research. My thesis found that orthodontic treatment improves the psychosocial functioning and self-concept of patients, leading to a better quality of life. Most of the significant psychosocial changes occur at the end of treatment because patients feel a sense of accomplishment, pride and relief after mastering the challenge of wearing braces.
My mother and father both inspired me to start my own orthodontics practice. My Mom was one of the first saleswomen if not the very first woman to sell copiers for the SCM Corporation. She always made Presidents Club for being top in sales. She then became one of the first women to sell cars. After learning the car business, she opened her own import car dealership. She would travel to Europe to bring back Ferraris, Porsches, and Jaguars, covert them to USA EPA standards and then sell them at a discounted price. She was the only female car dealer at that time. It was amazing to see her pave the way on her own! I learned from her that I could accomplish anything that I put my mind to do.
My father served in the Army where he did his residency to become a pathologist. He had his own M.D. practice with several other pathologists in San Antonio, Texas. I enjoyed going to work with him and seeing the brain and heart specimens. After 20 years in practice, he decided to go back to school to become a board certified dermatologist and dermato-pathologist. He was an incredible “study buddy” and kept me encouraged and motivated when I was struggling.
My father opened three dermatology offices outside of Fort Worth and to help me get started, he opened a satellite office in McKinney. The finish out and lease of the space was done so I would be ready to open the first day after graduation. We would work on Saturdays while I was finishing up my residency. I was his receptionist and nurse assistant. It was a great way to meet patients and “hit the ground running”. He taught me about the business of medicine, running an office, paying taxes, payroll, hiring staff, etc. I am so blessed to have his guidance and influence!
In 1996, I graduated from Baylor and opened my orthodontics practice in McKinney. At that time, McKinney was a small town with a population of 30,000 people (population now is 130,000+). The people of McKinney and the surrounding areas have been very kind to me.
My practice is unique in that we have close relationships with our patients and their families. We share their joys and hardships. Our patients forever become part of our lives. Our office feels like a big extended family. Just as I have watched McKinney grow, I have seen my patients grow and be successful. In 2002, the Chamber of Commerce chose us as the Small Business of theYear. It was a wonderful surprise and honor! It has been such a blessing to work with my patients and their families.
A smile is everything! It is the first thing that people notice about you. A smile is for a lifetime. You may have many cars or live in many houses but you only have one smile. A smile can open doors to success and inspire confidence to pursue dreams. One of my patients moved me to tears when he told me, “Dr. Buchanan, I just want to tell you that you have changed my life forever!”
Orthodontics has typically been thought of as for teenagers and children, but many parents see their children’s incredible smiles and seek treatment. It has been so fun because some of my first patients are now bringing in their children for treatment. I love the circle of orthodontic life!
In my office we also offer orthodontic scholarships for individuals in need. A note I received from one of those patients reaffirmed how important a smile is. She stated, “Hello Dr. Buchanan, I am an old patient of yours from about four-five years ago. You were on my mind today and I just wanted to thank you for everything you did for my family and me by providing braces for me. To this day, I still have people tell me I have a million dollar smile, and it is all thanks to you.”
Since 1998, our office has been working with the Head Start early childhood program to teach dental health. My office visits each classroomof children twice. At the first visit, we show proper brushing habits and health tips. On the second visit, we award Beanie Babies with braces to the children who are demonstrating good dental habits. I have an incredible staff in my office who spend hours placing braces on the 100+ Beanie Babies. Many of my patients and the community have donated the Beanie Babies too!
Our office has been active in supporting Scotty’s gifts to donate toys to local children in need since 1999. One of my patients lost a son and started Scotty’s gifts in his honor. The holidays are a difficult time for many, so they chose to spread joy and love by having Santa lead a caravan of cars loaded with gifts to donate. My patients and the community have been extremely generous with their donations of toys.
In 2001, the McKinney Rotary Club introduced me to the Lost Boys of Sudan. These boys were three-seven years old when the Taliban killed their parents and they had to wander around Africa to find food and water. Many died from starvation and from lion and alligator attacks.
The Lost Boys had a tradition that was a sign of manhood to extract all of the lower six front teeth. When they were rescued and brought to the United States, they felt self-conscious about their smile as a result of not having their front teeth. Loss of these teeth affected their speech since these teeth are critical for enunciation. Additionally, it caused a tongue thrust to develop that flared the upper teeth into a severe overbite. After hearing their story at Rotary Club, I wanted to do whatever I could to help these courageous boys. My dental colleagues and I partnered together to restore their smiles. It was such a blessing to work with my dental colleagues in McKinney who dedicated their time and talents to restore the Lost Boys’ wonderful smiles! The Lost Boys are the most grateful and courteous individuals. They truly demonstrate how adversity makes you stronger!
My goal as an orthodontist is to create functional and attractive smiles for my patients. I also feel that it is important to find ways to inspire them to get active in the community. We began by hosting a skating party with a $5.00 admission that went to build homes for local families in need. I invited my dental colleagues and their patients to participate as well. We were able to donate $5,000-10,000 each year to go towards a home for deserving local families. It has been a joy to work together with my patients and dental colleagues to give back to the community!
Our dream became to raise enough funds for an entire home. When I moved my office to the Adriatica development in McKinney we found the perfect opportunity to reach our goal of building a complete home for a family. Behind my office is an open area flood plain that can hold 20,000 people. It provided an opportunity to give back to the community and to raise more funds to help build homes for those in our area that were in need In 2008, we decided to host a free family outdoor concert to raise funds to build a home. The night before, my husband and I looked over the field and wondered if anyone would attend. Country star Chris Cagle was our headliner and 6,000 fans attended! We were able to host a free concert for the community and raised enough money to build an entire home for a deserving family!
In 2009, I was chosen as the McKinney Citizen of the Year. It was such an honor that would have not been possible without the support of my husband, daughter, parents, patients, friends, and the community. Words cannot express the gratitude I feel for their encouragement and love. One of my very first patients had a dream to serve in the military, especially after he witnessed the atrocities of 9/11. He was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010 and it strengthened my resolve to do more for those brave men and women who sacrifice everything so that we can be free. So in 2011, we started working with charities to build homes for our wounded military heroes. We always hold the Smiles Charity concert over Memorial Day Weekend. It was a perfect fit since we wanted to do more for our veterans.
2013 was our best event so far! We had R5, the Maylee Thomas Band, and Ryan Star as our performers. We had a crowd of 12,000 and surpassed our fundraising totals! A wounded military hero and his family will now have a home to call their own!
Our patient skating party became a 501(c)3 charity called Smiles Charity to build homes for deserving families while providing a free city wide family event. Since 2008, Smiles Charity has helped build eight homes and has hosted six concerts. It has been amazing having the local community, my patients, friends, family, volunteers, and corporate sponsors to come together to support us! The Smiles Charity committee is 100% volunteer. My friends spend countless hours of their precious time to make Smiles Charity a success. I am so grateful for their dedication! My husband and daughter spend many hours volunteering too! I appreciate their patience with me being busy and taking time away from our family time. My dental colleagues and local businesses have been incredible in supporting Smiles Charity!
You do not have to do big things to make a difference. A smile, small gesture or kind word has power. There is always an opportunity to help and encourage. The key is to take action.
I will conclude with these thoughts that have sustained me. Smile