Dennis Hartlieb

Following a Passion for Dentistry and Music with Dr. Dennis Wells

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How do the passions for music and dentistry work together to create a thriving cosmetic dentistry career? 

In this compelling interview with Dr. Dennis Wells, we learn about Dr. Wells' passion for music and how that interest led him to Nashville, TN, where he ultimately established a thriving cosmetic dentistry practice.

Dr. Hartlieb and Dr. Wells talk about playing sports and working toward professions like dentistry, and Dr. Wells shares about growing up in a family centered on a love of music. Listen in or watch to hear more about what led Dr. Wells into cosmetic dentistry supporting musicians in Nashville.

More about Dr. Dennis Wells

Paraphrased from Dr. Wells' Nashville Aesthetic Dentistry Website

Dr. Wells is the chosen dentist of many entertainers, community leaders, and others in the public eye. He is an instructor for other dentists though seminars and hands-on programs (PAC-live, DURAthin Live). He has over 30 years experience focused on cosmetic smile design, and he has networked with some of the leading cosmetic dentists around the world.

Dr. Wells has been accredited with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry since 1994, and he is a member of the AACD accreditation renewal board. 
Dr. Wells supports charitable efforts including Smiles for Life, Give Back a Smile, Dustin J. Wells Foundation, Smiles for Hope, Interfaith Dental Clinic and many other outreach organizations.
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Read the Full Interview Below

Making the Journey from Small Town Arkansas to Nashville, Tennessee

Dennis H 0:03  
Hello, Dental Online Trainers. Dr. Dennis Hartlieb, here with you again. Now there's an old song... Okay, I'm really dating myself here. The song comes back from 1976. I was a kid then and probably most of you weren't even born yet. But anyhow, the song is called "Torn Between Two Lovers." Yeah, I know! Kind of sappy. The song is by Mary McGregor. And the words goes something like this: "torn between two lovers / acting like a fool/ loving both of you / is breaking all the rules." Yeah, I know! Quite corny. But nonetheless, the reason I bring this up today, is because my guest is Dr. Dennis Wells.

If you don't know Dennis, I encourage you to Google micro thin veneers, dura thin veneers, no prep veneers. See Dennis, he's the master of prepless, and prep LESS, veneers. He's been doing ultra conservative veneer preparation for decades. Now the thing about Dennis, and the reason I brought up "Torn Between Two Lovers," is that Dennis was actually a musician, a legit musician. He was a bassist for a band that eventually landed in Nashville, Tennessee, the home of country western music. Dennis had graduated from dental school at the University of Tennessee in Memphis, and he returned home to practice dentistry in Arkansas.

Then he joined his brother Kent, a professional guitarist, to follow his passion into music. And he kind of put dentistry on the back burner. Now in part one of our conversation with Dennis, we learn about his background and what eventually convinced him that he needed to get back into dentistry. And once in, how he did the deep dive into the world of appearance or cosmetic dentistry. So Dental Online Trainers, kick back and relax, and enjoy my conversation with Dr. Dennis Wells. 

Hello, Dental Online Trainers! Dr. Dennis Hartlieb, back with you again for another exciting Sharecast. Hey, if you were around listening to music like Madonna or Dire Straits, maybe Sting's early stuff... I mean, if you remember Michael Jackson's Thriller video when it was released on MTV -- I remember like it was yesterday; it was crazy!
Well, guess what? One of the biggest innovations one of the biggest developments in cosmetic dentistry, it really hadn't even come to market yet. It's hard to believe. It's hard to imagine. But porcelain veneers weren't created or they weren't really established in dentistry until the mid 1980s. And really not until the late 1980s and into the 1990s were dentists really getting exposed to the techniques and the protocols for porcelain veneers. I mean, it seems absurd. But it's almost like it's hard to even remember when we didn't have smartphones. But it's not that long ago when porcelain veneers came into the dental existence!

Well, I bring this up because our guest today is Dr. Dennis Wells. And Dennis, well, he's got a bunch of background stuff that I'm super curious to dig into. But what I'm going to be talking to him... or why bring him on as a guest is that he's been a real innovator. And he's really raised the bar on how we do porcelain veneers in our techniques. So I'm bringing dentists in so we can chat about how we should be rethinking how we're doing our porcelain veneers.

Let me tell you a little bit about Dennis before I bring him in.
So Dennis, he is the founder of the National Center for Aesthetic Dentistry in Nashville, Tennessee -- not Nashville, Arkansas, which we'll talk about in a little bit. He's a graduate of Harding University, which I did a little background on. So we'll talk about Harding and University of Tennessee dental school. Go Vols! He received his accreditation with the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the ACD, back in 1994. I mean, Dennis, I mean, that's incredible. We'll talk about that! How quickly you got got that taken care of!

He served as an examiner with the AACD accreditation process, which I have as well. It's super cool. A bunch of awards! He received the President's Award from the AACD, which is really a significant accomplishment and reward. He is a fellow member of mine or the American Academy of Restorative Dentistry, which it was great to see him just a couple months ago when I put the bug in his ear that I wanted to chat with him. And he's a bassist! He plays the bass. He had his band, The Matrix Band, I don't know if that's still in existence. And he's a man of many skills and many talents. And Dennis, I want to just start out and say thanks for joining us today I really appreciate you being with us!

Dennis W 4:24  
It is my honor to be here, Dennis! And anybody with the name Dennis, you know automatically gets a free pass with me on any anything they ask. So it's really great to be on your show. And by the way, thank you for that very glowing introduction, and the respect is flowing both ways here! I've gotten to know... And I've done a little digging on you, by the way! 

Dennis H 4:48  
Hey, get your own podcast! 

Dennis W 4:50  
The accolades certainly are strong in your direction as well, and I have so much respect for you. And I love what you're doing with the show as you explained to me your purpose, and the ideas behind it. What a noble and needed thing to do. So I'm really honored to be here.

Dennis H 5:08  
Well, a couple of things. Number one, if there's a more humble dentist in our profession, I've yet to meet them. And Dennis, I've gotten to know you a little bit over the years. I truly don't know, there's anyone more humble with the successes that you've had. If anyone meets you, I think there's almost a certain deference that you have.

There's a certain shyness that you have... And I don't know that you like speaking about all your accolades. I imagine it's almost like being at your eulogy when I'm talking about all these accomplishments. What I did not mention, Dennis -- Or maybe I did mention briefly? But Dennis is the cosmetic dentists to a lot of the performing artists in Nashville and in other places. We're going to chat about that in a little bit. Dennis, I've got something for you. Before we start, I'm going to share my screen. So for those of you who are at on home or wherever you're watching your videos, let me find it here. Here it is, Dennis, I think you might enjoy this.

Dennis W 6:25  
You have been digging! Yes, you have!

Dennis H 6:28  
There it is. So there's Dennis's brother, Kent, but if you look right to Kent's left shoulder there is Dennis Wells with his bass at the ready! And I thought that was pretty cool. 

Dennis W 6:41  
I don't know what what your conclusion is about that whole era of my life. But I'll tell you briefly that I was practicing in a small town in southern Arkansas, ironically, Nashville, Arkansas, where I began my journey, my dental practice, right when I got out of school. And my brother, who is the guitar player you pointed out, he's the real musician in our family, I like to say, and he's gone on to make his living and had a great career in music.

But we joined together, my whole family, and created this country music show called Nashville Swing in this little town. We bought an old movie theater. And long story short, to our great almost surprise, that became a pretty big success. And we had sold out shows just about every Saturday night. And it was something that I was really excited and just loved the whole family spirit of that.

And the guy who sang a lot on our show, his name was David Slater, he won Star Search back in 1987. And he said, "Hey, I'm going to Tennessee! I'm going to Nashville, and I got a record deal with Capitol Records. I'd love for you guys that I've been playing with every Saturday night to be my band."

And so kind of on a whim, we made the decision to move... Actually not on a whim. But after careful analysis, we decided to pack up all of our stuff, and I actually put my equipment and storage in Nashville, Tennessee, and went out on the road with this guy for about a year and a half. And so it was an interesting time. And I learned a lot. I learned just how weak I am as a musician. In fact, when you come to this city, you better bring your hat and your hand, because there's some killer players here, as we all know, and so, it was exciting and fun.

And one of the things that I would have never been able to imagine is that it connected me with the music industry in a way that I was able to then turn around and start my dental practice there and sort of market and cater to that group of people both in the executive part of that as well as artists. And so it turned out to be a real blessing for me. And I don't like to parade around that I'm a musician because I feel pretty inept in that, but I'll tell you this, I am a wannabe musician. And I had a great time. And I still to this day enjoy playing a little bit, but that's definitely not my career.

Dennis H 9:07  
So, you know, this is... What was the name of the band, first of all?

Dennis W 9:11  
Well, I was in several bands through the years. The Matrix Band you mentioned earlier was actually a group of dentists out of the ACD; we had a ball doing that! My brother would come join us as kind of our token "real" player. And we had a great time with that. That whole little stick and it was fun. Nothing too serious.

But back in my college and dental school years, I played in several bands, and then again, we were the house band for this show called National Swing for almost four years. That was a hoot. A lot of fun as well, and played a lot of different kinds of music. Mostly country, though. So that seems like another lifetime at this stage of my life, but it was good memories.

Moving to Nashville, TN as a Musician

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Dr. Wells talks about what took him to Nashville, TN, where he ultimately established his cosmetic dental practice serving others in the music industry.

Growing Up in a Family Centered Around Music

Dennis H 10:00  
So your parents were both in music, right? As I understand it, you grew up with music all around you. Your mom was a pianist, your dad played guitar. Were they professionals? Were they teachers? Or were they just hobbyists? 

Dennis W 10:10  
Definitely not professionals. They were just a couple that sang together and enjoyed that. Our whole family reunions, things like that, were kind of centered around music. It was a great drawing card for... My siblings and I talked about this a lot how, at the time, we sort of despised it and didn't really appreciate that much. But we looked back on it. And it really... it did kind of sew us all together. But definitely just kind of casual musicians that were not professional. Only my brother has turned out to be the one that has dove deep and has done really well as a producer and guitar player here in Nashville.

Dennis H 10:48  
And as I understand it, you were first playing guitar before you picked up your bass. As I understand the story, your brother was just like, he picked up the guitar, pretty much whooped your butt, and you said, "Okay, I need to find something else." So that's sort of how it was?

Dennis W 11:00  
That's very accurate! He's five years younger. And by the time he was 11 or 12 years old, he was playing better than I was at 16 or 17. And it became real clear in the pecking order in the family band roster that he was going to be the guitar player, and also turned out to be a banjo and fiddle player as well. He's been real gifted. And so it was no hard decision for where I needed to go in that band. And then it kind of stuck. So I just ended up focusing on bass from from that point on.

Dennis H 11:32  
How old were you when you picked up the guitar?

Dennis W 11:35  
Probably 11 or 12. As I remember, I took some lessons, and took piano lessons earlier in my life as well. So music was always kind of a dabbler. It wasn't very cool where I went to school. It was cool to play sports. And if you played music, that wasn't cool. At least that was my perception. So I really... it took me getting a little bit older to really get excited about it and work hard at it.

Dennis H 12:02  
You grew up in southern Arkansas, is that right? 

Dennis W 12:04  
Yes. Yes. Right near Texarkana.

Dennis H 12:04  
What was it like? Tell me about that. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan, so I think that my surroundings were probably a little different than where you grew up.

Dennis W 12:16  
I think that'd be safe to say! Yeah, it was a small town, population 5,280. And I think the population is now under 5,000 if that might be an indicator of its nature. But it was it had a nice paper mill right in the middle of it, a few things that people identified with Ashdown, Arkansas. It had some great people, though. Really salt of the earth people, and a great place to be from and to think of as a good place to build your character and build your excitement to move on into bigger and better things.

Dennis H 12:57  
What did what your folks do?

Dennis W 13:00  
My dad was a blue collar fellow that came out of the army and learned how to do automobile body repair and had his own body shop for years and then he later started working at that paper mill I talked about. Very blue collar. My mother was a school teacher. And so we were very simple and middle class.

Dennis H 13:24  
Yeah, what are your memories when you're going through high school? What was Dennis Wells like as as a high school student?

Dennis W 13:33  
Well, I think again, lots of great memories the high school. There wasn't a lot of... It wasn't a big class. There weren't a lot of people to get lost in, so I felt pretty much in the center of things. I loved football. That was my main sport I played through high school and on into college a little bit, and again, played a little music, and so... And worked hard. I had... Every summer, I had jobs to do and worked at a lumberyard and Dairy Queen for a while, different things like that, just trying to scrape up money to get along with so, I didn't have a lot of exotic camps and things like that, that my kids today have. It was much simpler life.

Dennis H 14:22  
Right! A different life! I mean, I just said to a patient, you know, "We've got to come back as our kids!" But I don't know if I want that...

Dennis W 14:30  
They have their own battleground, too, don't they? They have their own challenges.

Dennis H 14:36  
There's no doubt! And I don't think I'd like those challenges that they have to deal with them day in day out.

Dennis W 14:40  
I think I agree. Absolutely.

Dennis H 14:44  
What position do you play in football?

Dennis W 14:46  
Well, in high school, I was a little bit on both sides of the ball. I played a little outside linebacker and played a little running back. In college, I actually went in as a QB in this start at Harding University over there in the middle of Arkansas, and then got moved over to a little defense, little corner and stuff, before it was all over. But I never had a very glamorous football life, either. I was one of those guys that liked the sport and it was one that I felt like I had a little to contribute.

But again, at that time in my life, I was much more focused on trying to pay gas for my car, have a car, have some clothes, things like that. So my kids live in a whole different strata of the way they do their lives in school, and sports is a huge part of their life, like it's each year around, in the sports that they're into, training and preparing and competing at much higher levels. So looking back on it, I think I was an enthusiast for the sport, but definitely not a serious... Too serious about it. But good memories and some some definite lessons. Life lessons you get out of sports that you just can't get out of any other place, in my opinion, sometimes, so...

Dennis H 16:04  
Well, you needed that name image and likeness back then because that could have changed your whole career! I can't even imagine what Dennis Wells would have paid to play quarterback at Harding, given the opportunity.

Dennis W 16:17  
Yeah, a whole new world! If they had come at me, and said "Look, you work as hard as you do in that lumberyard and we might get you a position here with some kickback. I think I would have been 24/7 on that one!

Dennis H 16:29  
Right, exactly. A whole new world. So you come in, you're going to Harding... Were you were you thinking about dentistry when you were 17 year old, 18 year old going to Harding? Or how did this all come about?

Dennis W 16:45  
The short answer to that is that no, I wasn't thinking dentistry. I went in as a pre-med student and as a freshman football player. One of the things that began to really register was me was that I'm not going to make my living doing football. And then my guidance counselor there who was really... The football team had people that looked after us a little bit. And he came to me one day and said, toward the end of my freshman year, and he goes, "You've already kind of dug a little hole here with a 3.3 GPA. that's probably going to be difficult (at that time in the world) to get into med school, hard to bring that back up!"

He said, "You might want to think about another related health field like dentistry, it'll be a little easier to get into school at that time." And I said, Yeah, that sounds really good. I think I'll just swap and go to go to pre-dentistry because in the little town I grew up in, there were a few people that I noticed seemed to do okay, and had a respected name in the town. And that was both doctors and dentists. And so that's the way it seemed to me back in 1975.
One of the things that began to really register was me was that I'm not going to make my living doing football.
Dr. Dennis Wells

Balancing College Sports and Dental School Preparation

Dennis H 17:57  
When you were at Harding, did you have any classmates that were going into dentistry? Like as you decided you were going down that path?

Dennis W 18:04  
There may have been... I wasn't close to anybody that was also pre-Dental. I feel kind of alone in my journey of taking the entrance exams and in preparing myself and the classes and stuff. But there may have been one or two, but there were several pre-med guys that we studied together, hung out.

Dennis H 18:26  
So you're playing football, you're in college. I can't even imagine, quite honestly, when I look at these athletes... And when I was at Michigan, there was a number of athletes that were pre -med. We had Norman Betts, who's a prominent oral surgeon in Ann Arbor, he was a starting tight end for Michigan with Bo Schembechler as a first year dental student.

I mean, I can't even imagine! I was just trying to like, you know, find my end of a waxing instrument as a D1, let alone, you know, having that type of responsibility. But even undergrad we you know, I'd have football players, not so much basketball players in Michigan, but I'd have football players and some other athletes that were in our classes. And I cannot even imagine trying to juggle the responsibilities of being you know, a college athlete, even if it's a D3 school or whatever level, they still expect a ton of time for you, right? You're still competing. How do you balance that? Your education and you know... you got a 3.3! Heck! You know what? I don't know if I would have had a 1.3 if I had to spend all the time in football practices and all that stuff. How did you manage that?

Dennis W 19:43  
It was a challenge. I was used to, from my blue collar background, I was used to working a lot and being busy, and I did perform pretty well as a high school student. I thought I was fairly prepared for that. But it certainly kicked it up another gear, and the amount of time it took to be in the practices was the big difference. Football was, at that D2 program, it was certainly, as you said, very demanding, even though it wasn't a big division one program, it was plenty of work.

And I wasn't feeling like the return on that was going to be significant enough to keep me from achieving some of my bigger goals, which was to be a health professional of some sort, some sort of doctor. So that was a pretty easy decision for me after the second year to to leave the football field, which I did, and focus on really trying to get into dental school. And looking back on it, I'm glad I did. You know, it's an interesting subject you're bringing up because I have dear friends that their two boys both played at Auburn recently. And one of them just got accepted into dental school last year.

And man, you know how deep respect to have to, for him to be able to as you said, to do all of that, and then bring it back to home. I'm super proud of my older son Landon. He just got accepted into Vanderbilt, he's going to be playing football there in the fall. And I'm really, really eager to see -- and I'm actually quite confident he will have a lot on his old man and be able to measure it really strong and on the field as well as in the academics. But that's a real tough road. It's not for everybody. That's let's be clear about that. It is not for everybody.

Dennis H 21:37  
Yeah. Well, I think you've got to be humble. Right? I think you have to sort of understand that you can't be all things all people right. If you want to do academics and athletics, I think you have to recognize sort of your limitations, and then be able to be... be able to dig your heels in, in when it's time to study, it's time to study. And when it's time to work out, it's time to work out. When it's time to be with your friends time try to be with your friends, and try not to... I think try to, you know, intermingle all that stuff. Is that right?

Dennis W 22:10  
Oh, yes, I would agree with all of that. I think it's obvious that man, you gotta be a special person with a ton of horsepower and a discipline that's not common. And obviously a real commitment!

Dennis H 22:24  
Especially as a 17 year old, right? Or an 18 year old. 

Dennis W 22:26  
Yeah, a real common focus on and purpose, you know, that you're very clear about, so... But there are countless examples of men, like you pointed out, that have done this at a high level, played high level programs, managed to go on and get into professional schools, both medical and dental and other healthcare areas that are very tough, or law school, for example. So my hat's off to anybody that's done it. I tried it. And I'm thankful that that it worked out.

I can't believe how grateful I am that dentistry became my second rate decision at the time, it felt like like my compromise... I think it turned out to be one of the biggest blessings of my life. It's fit me so well in just what I feel like are my skill sets and kind of my wheelhouse areas, so I'm not sure the the whole medical world would have... the medical doctor world would have fit me nearly as well. So lots of accidental gratitude there.

Dennis H 23:30  
Right, there's... Of the people that we spoken to, Amanda Seay. Gosh, Adamo, Newton Fahl, so many. So many people who've done so much for dentistry weren't even thinking about dentistry as kids, and they happened upon it through one way or another, some sort of influence. Frank Spear spoke at a meeting not too long ago about influences. And Frank was a football player, like you were, in college. He was at Chico State.

And one of his teachers, I think it was his biology teacher, saw something in him. And she asked Frank to stick around after class one day, and she asked Frank, well, you know, what are you going to do, Frank, when you're done? And he said, I'm going to be a coach, a football coach. And she said, No, you're not. And she, like figuratively took him by the ear and dragged him down to the counselor's office, who happened to be a retired dentist. He was sort of the pre-health counselor. And she said, No, you've got the bigger things for you. And she planted him down, and that was the beginning of Frank moving towards dentistry.

Dennis W 24:39  
I had no idea! And, man!  

Dennis H 24:42  
Yeah, isn't that crazy! 

Dennis W 24:43  
What a great move. A great break for dentistry that that teacher had that influence on him. Wow!

Balancing Other Passions Alongside Dentistry

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Dr. Wells reflects on the challenges people face who play sports and also pursue medical careers like dentistry and how the decision to focus on dentistry worked out in his life.

Mentorship and How Early Influences Make an Impact

Dennis H 24:50  
Yeah. So... And when we were talking before this, one of one of the reasons I do the Sharecast is because I think it's so interesting the influences that people have, the mentorship that people have. One of the things that we do in the Restorative Academy... I was going to bring this up earlier... Each year, there's a committee meeting that meets before the actual Restorative Academy, and at that committee meeting, they eulogize the members who had passed during the previous years. And part of the committee members' responsibilities is to do the eulogy.

And so for several years, I was on that committee and I had to learn about dentists that I actually, I hadn't met for several of them because they were older, and they had retired by time I had come into the academy. And so I had the opportunity to call up their spouse or their children or their partners in practice, and I got to learn about these people. And as I learned about them, it's like they had these fascinating stories, everyone had these fascinating histories and there could have been their enthusiasm, how they would take their kids skiing, and the memories that their kids would have.

And I know somewhat of the influence with this is that I think that it's so interesting to hear for all of us, where people came from, right, and the fact that Frank Spear was going to be a football coach. And here he is, one of the one of the greatest influences and teachers in dentistry. Why I'm doing what I'm doing, quite frankly, because I saw Frank Spear as a young dentist. And for people who are listening to Dennis Wells right now and saying, how interesting! And this is a path that he fell into. And we'll talk more about your dentistry accolades in a little bit. But I think that's super interesting. I always find this fascinating!

I want to talk about dental school because everyone has different dental school experiences. So you were in dental school and around the same era that I was. What year did you graduate Dental School?

Dennis W 26:59  

Dennis H 27:02  
All right. So, you were graduating right when I was getting started. I was starting in '85, I guess. What was dental school like for you when you were... when you went to Tennessee? What do you remember?

Dennis W 27:12  
It was some of the best days of my life and many ways when I look back on it, I was so excited to be there and focused on the end game of becoming a dentist and determined not to fail, to work as hard as I could. Some of it, the first year, when it was all academics was a little tough for me. That was not my best year. Let's put it that way. 

Dennis H 27:38  

Dennis W 27:38  
Amen? I got a second on that! But then, you know, as we quickly rolled into some of the actual dental work and lab work and into the clinical phases of things. I felt like I just kind of took off. It was really enjoyable. And I found it fitting, again, fitting my wheelhouse hands and eyes and things like that. I felt like, hey, I can do this. And so it was, you know, overall a good experience, particularly my last couple of years in the clinic. I enjoyed that a lot and found that not to be too much of a struggle. And I stumbled into the whole arena of composite bonding during that time period that...

I had one instructor that that kind of took a shine to me a little bit it seemed like and I had my credits finished up pretty early my senior year. So he worked with me quite a bit with bonding, which was so exciting to me, to be able to take composite materials and light cure them and then do things that I couldn't even imagine. So it was clearly what launched me out of there with a keen interest in aesthetics was one instructor who showed me a lot of things that were going on that he was really excited about. And wow, I don't know. I can't imagine my life without not having all that influence of composite bonding.
As we quickly rolled into some of the actual dental work and lab work and into the clinical phases of things, I felt like I just kind of took off. It was really enjoyable. 
Dr. Dennis Wells

Moving from Family Practice to Specialty Practice 

Dennis H 29:06  
Well, I mean, because it was just in its infancy when you were you were in school.

Dennis W 29:10  

Dennis H 29:12  
So you were using Concise and Adapt and some of those products.

Dennis W 29:16  
That's exactly right. It was early on and you know, the whole polymerization with lights was brand new, they were still mostly self-cure things, auto-cure things. And so, man, it was it was a new era. And being able to to combine some artistry with the science I've learned was a perfect mix for me. It really felt good.

Dennis H 29:40  
Do you remember the first dental procedure you did as a dental student? A non-prophy? Like an actual procedure where you had to drill a tooth and fill it?

Dennis W 29:46  
I don't have vivid memory of it, but I do have a general memory of doing my first amalgam filling on somebody and all of the tension and numbing, and everything on down. But again, it wasn't traumatic for me. It didn't feel... I've heard a lot of people describe it in different ways, but for me, it was just thrilling. And I felt like such a -- I don't know -- a noble person to be able to do stuff like that. So I felt very blessed.

Dennis H 30:19  
When you were in dental school, were you planning on heading back to Arkansas all along? Was that sort of the intention, to go back home?

Dennis W 30:29  
Not necessarily. Memphis was the first big... where I went to dental school was the first big market I had lived in, and it didn't take what a couple of years to, to really kind of recognize what I had not had the luxury of experiencing before, which was, you know, a big market with professional sports and entertainment and things like that. So the bug bit me pretty early that man, you may want to look around a little bit.

But interestingly, I had a call one day when I was in a third year school, about to go into the fourth, from a dentist in Nashville, Tennessee. And he invited me to come up; he was looking for an associate. And boy, was that interesting. He drove me around, literally in the place I'm sitting today, here in Brentwood, a suburb of Nashville. And I felt like I had seen the Garden of Eden here,. It was so beautiful and well developed and a planned area. And he had a beautiful brand new building and a great practice, very, very enticing.

What swayed me the most was the the concept of working for somebody else and not not being able to kind of do things the way I wanted to do them, led me back to go back to my small town in Arkansas, well near there, about an hour drive from where I grew up. A small town that was by a beautiful area that had lakes and natural beauty and geography and some nice people. And so I made a conscious decision to not go to a big market and to start my practice from scratch. From the first day I did that, I had a full schedule.

And so, it was bountiful, in a way, but it was very stressful trying to be all things to all people and doing everything from third molar extractions down to endo and various things that I've maybe done five of them back in dental school. So there was a good bit of further training that was at the expense of some of my patients back then. But we, you know, hung on to that. But as I went along a couple of years went down that path again, the bigger market was calling. And not only that, but just a desire to narrow the scope of what I was doing back more into artistic dentistry or what we call appearance-related dentistry. That was always in my head very vividly from my last year in school. And then that instructor kind of lighting that that torch for me.
But as I went along... the bigger market was calling. And not only that, but just a desire to narrow the scope of what I was doing back more into artistic dentistry or what we call appearance-related dentistry. 
Dr. Dennis Wells

The Role of Mentorship in Becoming a Better Dentist

Dennis H 33:03  
Oh, that's incredible. So, I mean for for people who weren't around at that time... So I graduated in '88. I mean, again, as I said in the intro, porcelain veneers were just getting started, right? I mean, there were very few people that... I want to talk about this in a second. But really, it was just composites were just in their infancy. So you were an early adopter! You saw something that most people didn't see. Did you have any classmates that also had that bug? Or did you like... Were you just like this one person that was out there, and everyone else is like...?

Here, I'll tell you a story. So when I was in high school, my buddy and I, we took a computer class. So this would have been 1980, 1981. It was Fortran and they had the little IBM cards, we had to punch things. My buddy's a very successful physician now. And we both took this class, and we're both like this is the dumbest thing ever. These computers are going nowhere! You know, we joke all the time, right? We just didn't... We didn't have that vision! So when you're in dental school, and you're seeing these materials, are you like an island where you're like... where other people are like, "Dennis is up in space!" Like having these dreams of doing appearance-related dentistry? Or what was it like?

Dennis W 34:25  
I don't think I was alone. I think I had other classmates that that like the composite world a lot and saw some of the benefits and, like me, experienced the joy that I had in school early of doing something that made a tooth look better and the patient just getting all excited and like begging when can they come back and get more done and that sort of thing as opposed to the dreaded, you know, gripping the chair kind of mentality that we all saw so much as well. And so, it was a combination, I think of feeling like, Okay, I think I'm pretty good at this, and then, okay, people love it, that was making that very easy for me to know what I really wanted to do.

And then when I practiced out in the general dentistry setting in a small town where there were no specialists, so I was forced to do -- I felt forced -- people would actually insinuate you weren't even a real dentist, if you didn't do all these things, you know? And so, I tried my hand at wearing all the hats. And I was very frustrated with that. I felt like I wasn't doing anything really great. And then I learned all about the treatment of standards and how when there's specialties in our profession, you have to treat to that standard. And so, that was always a bit of a sense of discomfort of like, Can I do that? Do I really have that ability or training?

So all that culminated into me just narrowing more and more. I did a lot of free smile design stuff, in my little small town, because it wasn't, obviously, the kind of culture that everybody had the money and wanted to look like, you know, movie stars. But it was... I never had a problem knowing what I wanted to do. And then it was fortunate, there was some little course that was given by Denmat. And I think that was my first year out, maybe that was '84, that I got to go attend and see actually them bonding on porcelain veneers. And that was like, wow, look at that! You know? And of course, they were doing these real bulky things, the infancy of the porcelain veneer world.

So it was still a lot to be learned, but that you could just kind of grab hold of the... Look at the possibilities here. And so all of that happened in pretty early when I was out of school. And I just began to pursue that pretty heavily. I'm not sure I had any other classmates that were quite as stoked about it as I was. But there were certainly people that were, you know, already doing some bonding and incorporating that into their practice. But most of them, I think, had just more an idea of a family kind of practice, and I could envision this being kind of a specialty that you would do.

And when I came to Nashville that truly was a part of my thinking is that, "I'm going to get up there. And I'm going to try to be the dentist of these celebrities one day." And it seemed like a far fetched dream for a while. But I had some sense in my head that I could do this. And then when I got around the country people, the music people in the industry, and got to know a few of them, I felt like okay, now I've got a little connection that I can build to make this a reality. So all of that... But I realized I had to get better and better and really have the, you know... I had to be legit. And so that that kept me spending all of my money, going to continuing education, more courses.

And then I joined the AACD. And I believe that was '91. And that really propelled me into some confidence and a lot more skill sets and a lot more knowledge, and a lot more mentors. I owe so much of my career to that organization. It was just simply amazing to me to be... The first meeting I went to I was like a kid in a candy store. Just seeing people that I've been reading Dentistry Today articles on, some of the periodicals that we had. And they were like movie stars to me. I mean, they were rock stars. And I couldn't believe that I had access to them. And they could tell me what lab they're using. What bonding agent and you know, it was just... I couldn't lap it up quick enough.

Dennis H 38:41  
Dennis, who were your first mentors, as you started getting into cosmetic dentistry, what are some of the names?

Dennis W 38:48  
Well, Bob Nixon comes to mind. Danny Matardoni that was the founder of DaVinci laboratories was a neat guy. He encouraged me early on... You know, talking about not knowing your level of influence, he will never know a call he made me one day and he goes, "Hey, I just wanted to say hello to you. I'm the owner of this lab. And you've been sending us a little work, and I've been looking at your preps, and they're just beautiful, Son. I just really want to commend you on that." And man, he might as well give me a million dollars, you know? That that just made my day.

And then as a result, I got a call from Bob Nixon who said, "Danny tells me you're really, really good here. And I just want to... I just want to get to know you a little bit. And then when I went to the second meeting, I believe it was, he came up and we got to meet face to face and so the journey is full of people like that. Bill Dorfman was a mentor of mine in photography and how he how he marketed and postured his practice in the market like that in Los Angeles.

I'm leaving a lot out, I know. And, of course, I'm thinking early on... And then as I went along, so many more people Like John Kois, and Jimmy Eubank, and Frank Spear, and all these people just begin to... It just goes on and on or people that I feel like I just have learned from, that are just brilliant, that taught me so much.

Dennis H 40:14  
Dennis, if you don't mind, I still have more stuff to ask you. And this is running a little bit late. And I'm hoping you can stick around for a little bit longer. But I actually want to break this into a second segment, because I wanted to talk about your influence with thin veneers, and prepless, or no prep veneers. Because I think that needs some conversation, because that made a big change for us in dentistry. And I want to talk a little bit about where we went and where we've come back to. And I think a lot of that is from the influences of people like yourself, especially. So Dental Online Trainers, thank you for hanging out with us.

For our part one, we got to learn a little bit about Dennis's background. And in our next segment, we're going to be talking about how we should be looking at teeth before prepping teeth. How much should we be prepping? And what should we be thinking about? What should we be looking at? How we should be conserving enamel. And Dennis Wells is the guy that needs to be addressing that for us. So, look forward to seeing you at our next segment. So until next time, I'm Dr. Dennis Hartlieb. Thank you, Dennis. Yours for better dentistry. We'll see you next time. 

Dennis W 41:20  
Thank you. 

Mentorship and How Much It Matters

Write your awesome label here.
Dr. Wells reflects on some of the amazing mentors he has had along the way in his dental career and shares how much those early influences mattered to him as he became a cosmetic dentist.
Dennis H 41:22  
Well, I hope that you enjoyed our visit with Dennis. I got caught up with Dennis talking about his background in music and his early influences in dentistry, that I didn't get a chance to talk about his thoughts on the near preparations and conservative dentistry and some of the things he's learned along the way. I also want to know what's it like to be a dentist to the stars. So look forward to part two of our interview with Dennis Wells coming soon.

Now also, don't forget that DOT has so many other great opportunities from our Wind and Unwind. These are monthly webinars where we engage real time with our viewers. You get to ask questions; we get to answer your questions. You get to do a deep dive into a subject matter maybe that you just want more experience with. We also have our monthly Study Club sessions, what I call our Coffee and Donut Study Club. These are sessions where you get to bring in cases that you're working on or cases that you have questions about, and we get to work through some of the issues that maybe challenge you in your practice.

We also talk about things like practice leadership and practice management, things that we're dealing with daily in our dental practices. We also have our live virtual workshops. In fact, we have our sixth tooth direct resin veneer course coming up June 18 and 19th, 2022. So check that out on our D O T website. We have our blogs and, of course, we have endless selection of hands-on, pre-recorded technique courses to help you improve the dentistry you can provide for your patients. So check us out at And thanks for joining us, and, as always, yours for better dentistry. I'm Dr. Dennis Hartlieb.

Dennis Hartlieb, DDS, AAACD

DOT Founder

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