Alumni Making an Impact in Texas

By Taryn Nakamura

At Rodeo Dental, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry alumni embody humanism and tackle larger social problems within their community. Drs. Brian Dugoni, Yahya Mansour and Saam Zarrabi, classmates from the DDS Class of 2008, are co-founders and partners at Rodeo Dental and Orthodontics, which has offices in eight locations throughout Texas.

Rodeo Roots

“It all starts with the values that Pacific has instilled in its students: leadership, humanism, excellence and community service,” Mansour said. The three classmates developed a strong friendship through dental school and continued to keep in touch even when residencies and postgraduate paths led them to separate cities. Zarrabi was the first to move to Dallas in 2008, and when Mansour and Dugoni later joined him, Rodeo Dental began to take shape.

At first Zarrabi worked at a few large corporate practices in Texas, but he described the practices as very “run-down” and lacking in good management and equipment. He took a step back and saw an opportunity to bring something completely different to the community using the knowledge and values he learned at Pacific.

Drawing from the group practice model and team mentality taught at dental school, Zarrabi described the founding vision to build beautiful clinics with high-end technology and to gather the best specialists devoted to providing patient-centered service. Zarrabi also credits the practice’s design and efficiency to mentors like Dr. Bill Dorfman ’83, whose Beverly Hills practice served as one source of inspiration for Rodeo Dental.

“We always held to the philosophy of being very patient centered, doing things in the community, but also being dentist owned,” said Mansour. “Sticking together with great dentists, like Dugoni and Zarrabi and tens of other Pacific Dugoni grads that work for us, we’re almost like a Pacific satellite campus out here in Texas.”

The original Rodeo Dental office opened in 2009 near the Fort Worth stock yards and the famous rodeo, the namesake for the practice. The practice grew organically as the team expanded to include additional dentists and specialists. A second practice opened in 2010, and four more practices followed in 2011. Rodeo Dental currently has eight practices, and is still in the process of expanding.

Stepping Up During an Orthodontic Crisis

In 2011, thousands of young orthodontic patients lost access to orthodontic treatment during a crisis in care for Texas Medicaid patients. Uninsured youth were stranded at various points of treatment with no access to orthodontists. “You literally had kids in braces with nowhere to go, no dentists to see—in the middle of treatment, at the end of treatment, wherever,” said Zarrabi. “Kids were pulling their brackets off in garages.”

Dugoni, Mansour and Zarrabi decided that as part of their community, they needed to take a leadership role in the situation and do whatever they could to offer aid.

Dugoni described how they came to their decision, “We just stepped up and said, ‘We don’t care about the financial aspect, we don’t care about anything other than the fact that these kids need somewhere to go and somewhere to be.”’

The following months were filled with late nights, travel, piles of paperwork and confused but grateful patients. Some patients drove three or four hours just to be seen by an orthodontist. The Rodeo Dental orthodontic team was working 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., six days a week, in a different city every day. Those months were taxing, but Dugoni said, “We always heard Grandpa Arthur Dugoni in the background telling us, ‘Don’t do anything for money, do it because it’s right, and everything else will figure itself out.’”

Dugoni, Mansour and Zarrabi expressed deep gratitude for their staff who kept the practice running by sorting out paperwork and working through the logistics of taking on transfer patients. “I am blessed to have, and have had, working under me the best team of dedicated orthodontists and assistants, all of whom stepped up and sacrificed so much,” said Dugoni. He is also proud that the three orthodontists working with him are all Pacific Dugoni dental school graduates: Drs. Nicole Sakai ’08, Amirali Tahbaz ’10 and Cal Martin ’11.

Rodeo Dental was issued a resolution from the State of Texas recognizing them for providing pro bono orthodontic services to more than 920 young uninsured patients. Dugoni estimates that they have since passed the 1,000-patient mark for pro bono services. Many of these orthodontic patients are now reaching the end of their treatment, and Rodeo Dental is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Philanthropic Approach to Dentistry

Rodeo Dental is grounded in a mission to give back to the community. Team members including Drs. Naomi Chew ’13, Daniel Khorramian ’10, Tiffany Kwan ’13, Adam Smith ’10 and Matt Yarborough ’14 volunteer for community activities such as health fairs and career fairs to help young people understand the importance of oral health.

Mansour said that the team’s primary goal is to educate people about the oral-systemic connection. Dentistry can have a domino effect for the good or the bad. If dentists are proactive and involved in educating patients, then patients can learn to use preventative measures to care for their oral and overall health. If there is neglect in dental education, people may fall into bad habits.

“Anyone can just drill and fill,” said Mansour. “But, we really try to treat the disease rather than the symptoms. We want patients to be active participants in this lifelong journey of oral health and wellness.”

In addition to organized community outreach, Rodeo Dental also takes on pro bono patients on a case-by-case basis. Mansour and Zarrabi appeared on “Good Morning Texas” with a patient to share an emotional story of transformation. A Facebook message had brought Rodeo Dental into contact with the patient, a domestic violence victim who had her front teeth knocked out. Moved by her story, Mansour brought her into the office for an initial meeting. Because of previous life experiences, the patient was clearly nervous during her first meeting with Mansour, but the Rodeo Dental staff slowly won her trust. After receiving a beautiful new smile, Mansour said that the patient is a completely transformed woman and recently called Rodeo Dental to report that she found a job and is getting her life back on track.

The Next Generation

The Rodeo Dental partners encourage students hoping to incorporate a community outreach aspect into their practice to start now. Zarrabi suggests that current dental students join Project Homeless Connect (PHC) and volunteer for SCOPE outreach activities. Zarrabi was one of three students who helped to start the partnership between Pacific Dugoni and PHC back in 2007. New dentists interested in community service should team up with nonprofit organizations whose missions align with their dental offices’ values.

The alumni community in Texas is thriving as young dentists flock to the area after graduation. Many Pacific graduates have joined Rodeo Dental, and Zarrabi estimates that at least eight to 10 offices have been opened by young dentists who began their careers at Rodeo Dental and then went on to start their own private practices. “That’s really a great feeling for us to see so many dentists come, start to work with us coming right out of school, and now have their own practice,” said Zarrabi.

Dugoni School of Dentistry young alumni are sticking togetherafter graduation, building a legacy of social responsibility to their community and continuing a tradition of family.

Taryn Nakamura is communications coordinator at the Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry.