Los Altos dentist Joe Cassara is improving the way many people feel about going to the dentist. His chair-side manner has been attracting patients from throughout the Bay Area ever since he began his practice in March 1996.
Just ask Julia Price, who is willing to drive more than 40 miles from San Francisco for an appointment at his Los Altos office.
"I have always been nervous about dentists," Price said. "It's just such a pleasure dealing with Dr. Cassara because he's one of those rare people who loves his job and it shows."
Price said her parents recommended Cassara after she cracked a filling. Price said she was stunned when Cassara re-opened his office for her the same evening she called, especially since he was already dressed and ready to go to a rosary. Price said she was shocked once again when he called the next day to check on her.
Cassara's wife Debbie, who works in his office as a receptionist part-time, said all dentists are required to answer emergency calls, but Cassara always makes an extra effort to see people immediately.
She said he has dashed to the office more than once to help out-of-town businessmen with toothaches, has opened his office at two in the morning, and has even closed his office for four hours to accompany a nervous patient to an oral surgeon.
"He will go out of his way for anyone in pain, whether they're his patients or not," she said.
Cassara said he empathizes with people who fear dentists because he remembers sitting in the dentist chair as a boy, nervously wondering if the doctor was going to hurt his mouth.
"I treat people the way I would like to be treated," Cassara said. "Not knowing is what used to bother me about going to the dentist."
Beverly Reynolds said her children were so terrified of dentists, they would have to be drugged and strapped into the chair before any dentist could get near them.
Reynolds said just one visit to Cassara's office changed her children's attitudes about visiting the dentist.
"He makes office visits a lot friendlier," Reynolds said. "My son came out of the dentist for the first time in his entire life with a smile on his face."
She said Cassara's approach is different than other dentists. Cassara doesn't rely on drugs or straps to calm her children, she said. He allows her children to watch him work on their siblings, she said.
In addition, he encourages patients to ask questions, touch the tools, and lets them view the inside of their mouths through a special camera. Cassara has also equipped each room with a television and allows patients to bring in their own videos, she said.
Cassara said he wanted to be a dentist since he was nine years old. He was so enthusiastic about dentistry as a boy, he gave toothbrushes to his family at Christmas, he said laughing.
The Los Altos native graduated from Santa Clara University and attended dental school at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco, where he graduated in 1994.
Cassara celebrated the one-year anniversary of his private practice March 5.