Many young children believe dentists have a really nice job.
They count teeth, clean the patient’s mouth, get to use “Mr. Thirsty” and paint fluoride on teeth. The child leaves the office with a sticker, a new toothbrush, and floss, only to return for an appointment six months later.
Dental visits like this led a young Nezar Kassem to want to become a dentist.
“I always had good dental visits when I was a kid,” he said. “I always thought dentists have a really nice job; they get to help people.”
And now, 15 years after opening Mahomet Family Dentistry at 2012 Tin Cup Road, Kassem has seen the impact dentistry has on his patients of all ages.
“I didn’t realize how much of an impact you can have on a person’s life by helping them take care of their smile,” Kassem said. “It’s not something you see initially, but that you see as you practice over a period of time.”
Aside from enjoying dental visits as a child, Kassem also knew that he liked to fix or put things together. Knowing that dentists also helped patients fix problems to achieve a healthy mouth, Kassem believed this skill would benefit dental patients.
But that does not mean Kassem thought becoming a dentist would be easy.
After graduating from Western Illinois University, Kassem applied to dental school not knowing if his proficient hand-eye coordination would be enough to actually be a dentist.
“It’s not until you get accepted to (dental school) and start going to class that you realize what you really have to do to become a dentist,” he said.
The Mahomet native did know one thing, though, he knew that if he did become a dentist that he would want to return to his hometown to open a practice.
At the time, though, finding a location was difficult.
Kassem said there weren’t any practices to purchase because, at the time, there weren’t any local dentists retiring. And the dental practices were not big enough to have two dentists in the same office.
Although Kassem had never been in the building where his office and Filippo’s Pizza are located, he knew the space would be big enough for a waiting room, dental chairs, and offices.
Mahomet Family Dentistry began as a quaint mom-and-pop dental practice where Kassem and his wife, Jen, who is a trained dental hygienist, ran the practice.
Quickly, Kassem’s office grew to the point where they needed someone to manage the front desk and to help as a dental assistant. Today, Mahomet Family Dentistry is big enough have two patient care coordinators working at the front desk, two dental hygienists and a dental assistant.
“I would not have been able to start this business without the support of my family and friends,” Kassem said.
Kassem’s team takes a patient-focused approach to dentistry.
Every patient that sits down in a chair at Mahomet Family Dentistry gets an oral cancer screening, a cleaning and x-rays when appropriate, an evaluation of previous dental work and an explanation about the condition of their mouth.
While many patients come into the office every six months for regular dental maintenance, Kassem also often sees patients who have a particular dental problem they are concerned about.
“Sometimes, you’ll have someone come in and they are extremely depressed, in a way, about the condition of their mouth.”
“We want to give them as much information as we can,” Kassem said. “When there is a treatment that needs to be done, we give them the information they need to know about how to treat the tooth: the cost that is involved, what their insurance will cover and how long it takes to fix the problem.”
“In some ways, I’m able to explain to them that, ‘You know what? You can fix this. It’s okay.’”
Kassem loves when his team gets a patient’s mouth restored and the patient comes in for regular maintenance knowing, “This is what it’s like to have a healthy mouth.”
But he also loves for the patients to know that he and his staff care about their lives, their families, and their opinions, too.
There have been times when a patient comes in with a cracked tooth or a rough spot, but upon examination, Kassem sees that there may be some other problems that need to be fixed.
“I try to talk to the patient about how to fix the things they see as a problem first, but also let them know there are other issues that need to be taken care of. I think patients appreciate that I consider their needs a priority, as well.”
One thing that makes the process of fixing cosmetic and medical dentistry issues easier over the last 15 years is the development of new technologies.
Fifteen years ago, Kassem’s team was still taking film x-rays, developing them and sending away impressions that would return as a new crown two weeks later.
With the addition of digital x-rays, digital scanning, computerized charting and same-day crown service, patients are not only seeing a quick turn-around time in dental care, but they are also seeing an improvement in the quality of care they receive.
“We can scan a tooth after we’ve prepared it now, design a crown, make the crown right here in the office and the patient can have the crown on the same day. They don’t have to wear a temporary crown.”
“A lot of times that improves the fit and stability of that prepared tooth.”
Over the years, Kassem has enjoyed seeing how proper dental care helps his patients with confidence.
“It’s something you’re trained to do, it’s something that you find enjoyment in doing, but a lot of times, it takes a while to see how the results of what you’ve done to help someone improve their smile or remove discomfort in a tooth makes a difference to them.”
“I really does make a big difference in how people enjoy themselves after their teeth are fixed.”
Kassem said he sees the change in both children and adults. Patients often come into the office dreading the procedure that needs to be done, but Kassem works hard not to cause discomfort, to make the process go quickly and smoothly and to make the mouth feel better.
“They are surprised at how easy it can be to go from Point A to Point B and the end result is better than they expected it to be,” he said.
Through the whole process, Kassem prides himself on a team that makes patients want to come back.
“The people who work with me make the patients comfortable,” he said. “This is the major reason Mahomet Family Dentistry has been in business for 15 years.”
From listening to stories about family members who have lived in Mahomet all their life, to seeing children and grandchildren of patients who have been with him for 15 years, to catching a glimpse of what a newcomer thinks of Mahomet, Kassem believes that engaging with patients and being involved in the community are also important aspects of his dental practice.
It’s one of the first lessons he learned in dental school.
“A professor said, ‘If you come to school and all you do is school, you’ll probably do okay, but you won’t have an enjoyable experience. If you go to school and all you do is study, you won’t have an enjoyable experience. If you go to school, don’t study and only party, you won’t have an enjoyable experience.’”
“‘But the people that have a balance of doing the best you can in school, spending time studying and doing something that you find enjoyable outside the confines of school, if you can balance those three things, you’re going to have a more enjoyable time.’”
“And I think that’s applicable to any time of your life,” Kassem said.
“If you work hard, spend time with your family and also make time to do other things that make you a more well-rounded individual, then you’re going to have a more balanced experience in life.”
Because Kassem sees the personal and professional value in being involved in the Mahomet community both inside and outside of the office, he has always found ways to be involved in the community.
Over the last 15 years, he has been involved in his children’s education by supporting Mahomet-Seymour Schools through fundraising efforts, by educating young students on the importance of taking care of their teeth and by serving in his first term as a Mahomet-Seymour School Board member.
His team has been involved in Trunk or Treat for the last two years, in various parades, has hosted a Candy Buyback program and by making donations to the Rotary Club, the Mahomet Lions Club and the Mahomet Recreation Department, among others.
“That’s enjoyable for me to do. I like being involved with other aspects of our community and I really like being able to help,” he said.