All in the Family
Brothers, fathers and sons, husbands and wives—when it comes to setting up and running a dental practice, family can often be the best way to go.
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Husband & Wife
Donna & Ross Sanfilippo
General Dentist & Oral Surgeon,
Unlike the other pairings in this Top Dentists feature, Ross Sanfilippo, 50, and his wife of 25 years, Donna, 49, don’t work together: He’s an oral surgeon based in New London and she’s a general practitioner, part of the team at Groton’s Contemporary Dentistry. They met as undergrads in an anatomy and physiology class at Fairleigh Dickinson University, where he won her with his class-clownishness before pursuing his DMD there. Donna earned an MS in human physiology at Fairleigh, then moved on to SUNY Stony Brook for her DDS. Though she calls their disciplines “apples and oranges,” their special interests within each field are not so different—he likes repairing facial trauma, she loves cosmetic dentistry.
They rarely discuss their workday with each other. “As soon as it’s over, we’re on our cell phones asking, ‘Which of us is picking up what kid from where?’” Donna says. In addition to four teenagers—Ross Jr., Troy, Eric and Nina—they share a 23-acre farm in Salem (called the R-TEN Ranch, after each of the kids’ first initials), home to llamas, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, a donkey, a retired horse and one giant ox. “It’s just a hobby gone wild,” says Ross. Donna is also one of only two state-certified DEP wildlife rehabilitators, specializing in the care of injured and orphaned white-tailed fawns. “I raise them until they’re 5 to 6 months of age, then slow-release them back into the wild,” she says.
Father and Son
GARY & PERRY OPIN
Opin Wide Orthodontics is about a lot more than braces: Perry, 74 (with a DDS from New York University and MS in Orthodontics from Boston University), and his son Gary, 42 (DMD Tufts University, MS in Orthodontics from UConn), devote a significant portion of their practice to collaborating with the doctors at the Yale Craniofacial Center. “We currently see about 200 kids with craniofacial abnormalities, most commonly cleft palate,” Perry says. “Some of them began treatment at birth, and we’ll work with them until they’re 17, making them whole. These kids are in real bad need.”
Their needs encompass much more than dentistry. “We’ve had a couple of patients who have become part of our family,” says Gary. “We’ll celebrate different holidays and special occasions with them, help them with school problems. One girl with major facial disfigurement, brought over from the Philippines, doesn’t have anyone in this country, so she asked us to go to her junior high graduation. We did, and it was special for us as well.”
Crucial to the team’s success after 14 years is its canine partner: Cooper, Gary’s Crestepoo, who is a nationally certified medical therapy dog. Apparently, he came up with his own foolproof technique to calm frightened young patients—jump into their laps and fall asleep. “Our vet claims he’s unique, that dogs won’t normally do this with strangers,” says Perry.
“Kids with craniofacial problems all have had multiple surgeries, and develop what I call ‘white-coat syndrome’: They see any doctor and they assume they’re going to be lied to, cut up, miserable. Cooper jumps into their laps and it’s like we gave them Valium. Hey, we may or may not be any good, but the dog’s awesome.”