February 2013

Dr. Timothy Gross DMD, Passionate About Dentistry

Author: Michael Paskevich | Photographer: Photography by Anne

Business cards for Dr. Timothy Gross note he’s “Passionate about Dentistry,” and it takes all of a few minutes of conversation to realize that, if anything, he may actually be understating the case. He quickly reveals a wide-ranging knowledge of his craft and could surely spend even more time on the lecture and seminar circuit where he regularly shares his wisdom with peers, often without recompense, before returning to the equally pressing matters of family and the Hilton Head Island practice he operates with his spouse and office manager, Melissa. “There’s an ongoing evolution in this profession,” Gross said, “and most of the equipment and the products I use now are different from when I started 21 years ago… so you really need to stay on top of things.”

There’s no longer reason to employ old-style silver fillings that contain highly toxic mercury (he replaces them with an invisible filler) just as there are continuing advances in ways to increase client comfort, enhance cosmetic work or better tend to what he terms “needs-based” dentistry in which patients simply want to maintain their smiles and, in turn, their health. His areas of expertise extend, understandably, to sleep apnea, a misunderstood and life-threatening affliction in which tongues fall back from lower jaws during sleep and constrict airflow to the lungs.

“I have it myself,” Gross said. “There are tens of millions of people with undiagnosed sleep apnea who, when they go to sleep, actually stop breathing, sometimes for 10 seconds, sometimes for up to a minute and half, and they do this hundreds of times a night. You heal physically and emotionally when you sleep,” he continued, “so people with sleep apnea are not healing or recharging their batteries. They become chronically fatigued, blood pressure and cholesterol go up and they can either develop diabetes or it becomes worse.

“People who have it have a 21 times greater risk of stroke or heart attack which is worse than if you smoke and drink every day. It’s a very serious condition, and the big problem is that people don’t know they have it. That’s why it’s so important for dentists to screen for it.”

Fortunately, remedies ranging from pressurized air masks to adjustable metallic appliances can realign lower jars and ensure proper nighttime breathing. Gross works closely with island sleep labs and carefully monitors the airwave anatomy of his younger patients, because research is proving that many youngsters diagnosed with attention-deficit disorders maybe just aren’t getting a good night’s sleep. “I know from my own experience that kids underperform or get ornery when they don’t get enough sleep,” Gross said.

After graduating from the University of Pittsburgh’s Dental School in his native hometown, Gross set up a successful practice in the city’s affluent north hills area where his clients included professional athletes and socialites with every sort of dental need. However, he and wife Melissa grew weary of winters there and, after just two fall-in-love visits to Hilton Head, purchased a home in Palmetto Hall, packed up their two kids and settled in about four years ago with little more than a symbolic shingle hung out to signify his newborn practice.

He was planning to build his own office when a fellow dentist’s early retirement—“he left on a Friday and I moved in on Monday”—led to comfortable instant quarters off Palmetto Bay Road where Melissa oversees a personable support staff that includes long-time area hygienist Maria Gayman. The team handles scheduling and paperwork for a clientele seeking everything from routine maintenance and orthodontics to cosmetic work and, of course, crucial assistance in dealing with sleep apnea.

He derives pleasure from his work, no matter the task. “When you patch a tooth, people say ‘thank you,’ while there are often tears and hugs after cosmetic work, because it’s such a major emotional life-changer,” Gross said. “When you’re dealing with sleep apnea, however, there’s a different level of appreciation, because you are actually contributing to saving a person’s life.”

Gross’ dedication to all facets of dentistry regularly takes him west to the esteemed Las Vegas Institute for Dental Studies where he instructs on new developments in cosmetic dentistry, and he thrives on trading new data with colleagues at out-of-town seminars. “I believe we all need to take continuing education courses that go beyond each state’s requirements,” he said, “and there’s a great core of dentists out there who love nothing more than exchanging the latest information they’ve discovered.”

Gross recently lectured several hundred dentists at a conference in Florida and is set for a July excursion to Calgary, Canada, where he’ll share his professional insights. However, he limits his travels to a few well-chosen events to meet the demands of an expanding practice and a home front that finds the couple’s two pre-teen children excelling athletically in warmer climes.

“When I’m not working it’s all about sports,” Gross said with a smile, obviously proud of son Colin who plays baseball for a local touring team and daughter Abby who, as a seventh grader, already is running cross-country with the varsity at Hilton Head Island High School.

“To become exceptional at something you have to enjoy what you do … yes, become passionate about it,” Gross said. “And I really love being a dentist. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”

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