Dr. Douglas Wright didn’t need to look far for inspiration while in orthodontics school at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Daily, he walked by a bust of his great-grandfather, Frank Casto, former dean of the school.
Wright, 56, didn’t need to look far growing up, either. His father, Laurence, who died two years ago, worked as an orthodontist for decades in Amherst, starting in 1956, including alongside his son for many years.
“He was just a real nice guy, a real kind guy,” Wright said recently. “He made me read books like ‘The Power of Positive Thinking.’ Later on, he lectured about enthusiasm. He played in the Buffalo Banjo Band, which is still around.”
Wright isn’t in the banjo band, but he shares his father’s appreciation for music. He and his wife, Laurie, have attended most of this summer’s Tuesday in the Park concert series at Artpark.
For nearly 30 years, he’s used a chair-side manner he learned from his father and a decorating idea from his mother, Joan, to build Owl Orthodontics.
Q. Talk about your family.
A. My great-grandfather was my grandmother’s father. Dad came to Buffalo when he was a teenager and graduated from the University of Buffalo (Dental School) in 1954. He met my mother here at a dance. She was at Buff State at the time.
I’m one of four brothers. We’re all in Buffalo. Everybody had been away, and everybody came back, which is very typical of Buffalo. My brother Dave is a dentist in Silver Creek; Jim owns an orthodontic laboratory called OrthoDent on Sheridan and Transit; Jonathon is a drug- and alcohol-abuse counselor. … I have three children: two sons, 23 and 25, and a daughter, 19.
Q. What are your earliest memories of your father’s practice?
A. My brothers and I all worked for him, folding envelopes and cutting the lawn at the office, the original office at Main and Eggert. That’s where we still are; it’s one of the five offices, next to Brunner’s Tavern in Eggertsville.
Q. Did you need braces or other dental work as a kid?
A. Yes, we all had braces. My dad put ’em on us. Then he would come home, and the orthodontist was at your house! We all had head gear. We didn’t like the head gear, but my dad used to make sure we’d wear it. Now I hardly ever use them in treatment.
Q. How has getting braces changed?
A. I was 12 and had them on two years. Eleven is probably the average age now, and they’re on maybe 21 months.
The biggest change is the brace itself, where there is more of a machining of the little slot where the wire goes and also the different shapes and kinds of wires. The wires became more flexible, more forgiving. It lessens the level of discomfort. More recently, they’ve developed a little bit more of a lower-friction brace.
Q. Did you ever get a sense, while you were in the office as a kid, what it was like to be an orthodontist?
A. I did. It’s a real personable business, because you’re always relating one-on-one with the parent and mostly the patient. You’re adjusting the wires and trying to straighten the teeth, but you’re also talking to the patient. Dad used to always have a place in the chart where he would write down all of a patient’s hobbies and interests.
Q. Do you do the same thing in your charts?
A. I do. That’s probably the most fun part. What are the kids doing? Talking to them, seeing what their interests are. I get to see the fashions, what kinds of sneakers kids are wearing.
Q. What would the percentage of adults be?
A. It’s probably about 15 to 17 percent.
Q. How many employees do you have, and how many of them have had braces?
A. There’s about 25 total. Some of them have had braces, and a lot of them have had Invisalign (clear, computer-crafted teeth aligners). When Invisalign first came out about 10 years ago, the first eight patients were my staff. It helped them, because they got the technology for free, and it helped me because I got to get more proficient in it.
Q. Let’s get into the name. Has it always been Owl Orthodontics?
A. The corporate name was named after my father, Laurence C. Wright SPC. … Even though that’s still the corporate name, our practice brand is Owl Orthodontics. The owl is on our logo. It’s on our stationery.
Q. How did that start?
A. With my mother. She redecorated the Main Street office in an owl motif (in the early 1980s). She had owl borders, owls on the curtains and an owl lamp … and the patients noticed that. They started bringing them in. … Kids draw pictures. People like owls. Owls are smart.
Q. How many owls do you have in the five offices? What’s the biggest one?
A. Probably about 4,000. They’re not all out. We have some big ceramic ones. We’ve had some big rope owls, macrame.
People still bring ‘em in.