“The family that works together, stays together.” That isn’t precisely how the saying goes, but it has proven true for three longtime Tulsans who have earned Tulsa County Dental Society’s “Dentist of the Year” distinction.
Dr. Nick Hunter won the award in 1990, his son-in-law Dr. Blake Henry won in 2012 and his daughter Dr. Kathy Henry is now the proud recipient for 2019.
The award, named the A.L. Walters Award after one of the organization’s founders, is given to one dentist per year and is voted on by the Tulsa County Dental Society’s executive committee, explains Sheri Greer of the Tulsa County Dental Society.
“It recognizes the dentist who has given time, energy and expertise to our organization. It recognizes his/her contributions in dentistry, advancing leadership, ethics, professionalism and excellence. Dr. Nick Hunter and Drs. Kathy and Blake Henry all represent outstanding service to dentistry and to the Tulsa community.”
Kathy not only serves her patients at Lewis Park Family Dentistry, but also the community through OkMOM (Oklahoma Mission of Mercy), a two-day free clinic offering treatment to the uninsured, under-insured or those who would not otherwise have access to dental care. She helped bring the event to Oklahoma 10 years ago and continually works to improve it to better meet the needs of Oklahomans.
“It’s a pleasure to have a front-row seat to watching the dental community and local communities throughout Oklahoma rally together to provide dental care for their neighbors,” she says.
It’s just one of many factors that earned her 2019’s “Dentist of the Year” award.
“It feels good to be honored for doing work that I truly enjoy,” Kathy says. “I remember coming into town from dental school to watch my dad receive the same award and proudly watching Blake receive it a few years ago. I never imagined we would all get to be recognized for doing what we really, truly enjoy.”
Although her father never pressured her to pursue the dental field, Kathy says she realized in college dentistry would provide a great work/life balance, a balance that has proven helpful in raising her six children with Blake. Today, she practices at Lewis Park Family Dentistry alongside her father and sister, Kellie Southard, who is a dental hygienist, and her cousin, Dr. Justin Young, making it a true family affair.
“Being able to work with my family has been a dream come true,” Kathy says.
And her father couldn’t agree more.
“We talk about cases with one another, it’s non-confrontational, and we’ve never had a cross word,” Nick says. “I have done this for 45 years, so I’ve seen it all. They ask me what I think about things and how I’d do it.
“Sometimes I have an idea I want to share with them in case it comes up. It’s not something they would know from education, but I know from experience. It’s good to be a mentor and be the old guy here to help them along the way.”
In addition to her father’s sage advice, staying on the cusp of new advances is another way Kathy continues to grow professionally. “Medicine in general is always changing,” she says. “Staying up-to-date with research and technology is the key to being able to offer the best treatments for our patients.
“There is concrete evidence that oral health affects systemic health. Although clinicians have always known the connection exists, using research to make that connection for patients allows us to work together for the best outcomes possible for our patients.”
While Kathy and husband Blake don’t work in the same office — he practices at Henry Orthodontics — working in the same field allows them to fully share in the other’s successes and to sympathize with struggles.
“It is so much fun that Kathy and I are in the same field. We met in our first month of college at Texas Christian University, and we’ve been together ever since,” Blake says. “We were side by side throughout our education. We know how much hard work went into achieving success in school and how much time it takes to run a small business/private practice. We understand each other better than most couples possibly could. We’ve been together for 25 years, and she’s my partner in every way.”
Although all three family members have now been honored as TCDS’ “Dentist of the Year,” Blake says the work itself is the reward.
“I am thankful every day for the opportunity to be an orthodontist,” he says. “I couldn’t think of any other job I would rather have. I love going to work every day, knowing that I’m helping give people smiles to be proud of.”
After 45 successful years of practicing on Lewis Avenue in Tulsa, Nick adds people should always be the focus.
“We are not working on teeth; we are working on people. Teeth are hooked to the people,” Nick says. “It’s the people you take care of.”