FAYETTEVILLE — For 40 years, Dr. Bruce Cassis has held a particular piece of advice from his father close to his heart.
"In 1980, when I graduated (from the WVU School of Dentistry), I thought my dad (Moses Cassis) would be real proud of me, and he was," recalls Cassis. "But he said something to me that stuck with me all these years, 'It's good you've done what you've done, but what are you going to do to help people?' So that's always stuck with me."
Four decades later, the Cassis Dental Center is thriving and continues to offer quality services to individuals in southern West Virginia.
"It's worked out real well," Cassis said recently in the midst of a week which recognized his 40 years in the profession. "We love what we do inside the office, we love the people we work with. We love, first and foremost, taking care of our patients, who are really good people."
As the years have progressed, the business has managed "to continue to grow, bringing the latest in technology and techniques to help people," he said.
"Forty years, I can look at it a lot of different ways," Cassis added. "I feel real blessed to still be doing what I love doing, and that's taking care of people; it just happens to be in dentistry.
"I know I've still got a few good years left, and I intend to maximize that, help as many people as I can."
Cassis just passed his 66th birthday, and he says he's planning on being at his clinic a while longer. "I can almost guarantee I'll pull a few more years. The biggest determining factor is my health. Right now, I've got great eyesight, my hands still work really well. As long as I can maintain that, I'm gonna stick around."
And, the Covid-19 pandemic — while resulting in the office being shut down for seven weeks — hasn't caused Cassis, associate dentist Dr. Julia Meadows and the rest of the 14-person staff to skip much of a beat in recent months.
In regards to infection control, Cassis says, "There's no other health care sector that does infection control better than dentistry does." Standards came into play revolving around HIV/AIDs in the 1980s, and "we've always followed those.
"We could have really gone without shutting down, because we were already doing all the infection control things." Of the missed days, he said, "Every single day of that was painful."
In the process, the operation of the physical plant did change. "The biggest difference you'll see here is how we traffic patients," said Cassis. "Restorative patients come in the front door, hygiene patients come in the side door. And we try to keep that socially distanced between the two sides so we're not overflowing."
Also, staffers utilize fogging as a means to help with disinfection. "Or we put out a solution into the air ... that helps with infection control."
Through it all, patient traffic hasn't slowed. "In the past, we always did shorter hours in the summer time, but because of the pandemic, there's too much demand to shorten those hours. Demand has been building up, even since the pandemic started. We're slammed. The demand is higher now, but seeing the same number of patients every day is a little bit problematic."
For example, "We don't have a reception area any more; our parking lot is the reception area. (Patients) call, we escort you directly to the rest room, where you have to wash your hands and use a peroxide rinse that should reduce any microbes or germs."
Cassis served on a West Virginia Board of Dentistry task force to reopen dental offices in the state, which he termed a "great learning experience." And, with his affiliation as an officer with the national Academy of General Dentistry, he helped craft that organization's return-to-work guidelines. "I felt like I got the opportunity in several different places on getting dentistry back on track."
Cassis is fully certified in advanced cardiac life support. He has had advanced training in laser dentistry, implant dentistry, cosmetic dentistry, oral sedation, occlusal diagnosis and treatment (TMJ), gum disease diagnosis and treatment, braces and root canal therapy. Cassis serves the community by participating in free dental screenings to elementary students, and provides lectures and seminars to college students in health care professions through the rural health education consortium. During his free time, he enjoys outdoor sports activities with his sons.
• • •
Over the years, the practice has seen its share of positive growth. "Begin with the philosophy to do your best, continually be educated ... so you can better serve patients," said Cassis.
"We've actually had lots of firsts, like using a laser to prepare teeth to get cavities out, and to do gum procedures. We're the first office in West Virginia to do that."
As far as fillings, Cassis Dental Center was the first dental office in the state to use an ultraviolet light to harden the material "so you could put the filling into the tooth and shape it up real nice, and then cure it with that light," he said. The first generation line has been "improved them so much." An original light would take about three minutes, but "now we do it in five seconds."
The office also provides in-house sedation, which allows patients "to get a larger volume of dental work done in shorter appointments instead of multiple, multiple appointments."
"We do lots of same-day dentistry, but because we have scanners, we can scan something in your mouth and make a cap or a crown for you and deliver it in about 40 minutes as opposed to two or three or four weeks," he continued.
A huge boom to the dental practice has been the advent of lasers over the years. "There were no lasers for dentistry back in the early 1980s. Somebody may have been talking about them, but they really weren't available until the very late 1990s. I got my first one in the year 2000. Because there weren't many out in the country, there was some learning that had to be done. In 2005, I started teaching other dentists how to use lasers."
His business is among the dental centers to provide some plastic surgery work. "We've always had an eye for people's faces. We've focused on facial aesthetics a lot. ... Now we can do things to enhance your face, which is real exciting to me. We use Botox that will relax certain muscles, gets rid of frowns or furrows in your forehead and stuff like that. We also can inject dermal fillers in places that plops it up. We've just recently invested in a radiowave machine that is a temperature-based machine that actually promotes collagen regrowth in there. That's within the realm of dentistry."
Can there be more improvements?
"In my position with the Academy of General Dentistry, I've seen what the future is going to be," he said. "I see all the research that is going on, all the products that are being brought to market.
"There are still a lot of things out there. Everything can improve."
"For example, doing dental implants used to be a very difficult thing. Now we place them routinely. We have all the tools we need. We have a (computerized tomography machine) right here in the office. As those things become more affordable, you can turn it around and do more procedures for patients in a safe and effective manner." Dental implants used to be "few and far between."
Cassis has seen another big shift, and it's one he embraces. "One of the biggest changes I've seen is where we've gone from a male-dominated profession. In my class, there were six women out of 70-some. Now the classes are better than 50 percent women.
"I think it's a great thing. Women are technically capable and very competent, and they possess something that most guys don't, and that's some compassion."
One other area Cassis likes to stress is health care access. "Access to care has always been a big issue," he said. "Everybody says there's not enough dentists in rural areas. I see it a little differently. We have plenty of dentists, but what we don't have are patients that seek out dental care.
"Access to care is an issue I took seriously a long time ago. I became credentialed to do hospital dentistry. In a hospital, a patient can be safely put to sleep and do all their treatment in one appointment. (That is) good for a lot of children, and we probably see more special needs patients. I'm happy to take care of them. We can do it safely in a hospital, too."
• • •
Cassis hails from Charleston, and he started his practice in 1980 in Gauley Bridge. "When I graduated in 1980, I went down to Gauley Bridge and took over Dr. Atkins' office down there. That was a great two years in Gauley Bridge. A lot of the people in Gauley Bridge were so good to me."
"I was living in Fayetteville, but I always drove by this (Fayetteville) lot every single day," he recalled. "I thought that would be a great place for a dental office. At that point, I started inquiring, and we made plans to build the office in Fayetteville (for which the work began in 1982). For about eight years, I went back and forth between Gauley Bridge and Fayetteville to practice. Then, we got pretty busy up here.
"In 1992, we started growing so much, we built this newer section on, which we call the hygiene section of the office. And the original part is still the restorative side of the office."
His father, who passed away in 2005, even helped get the Fayetteville site up and running. "When we built the original side of the office, we contracted out for everything except the electrical work. and when we built this new side of the office, same thing. My dad was a commercial industrial technician. I'm not sure he loved the idea of coming up from Charleston in the evenings, but what he really loved was putting me to work on all the hard stuff, climbing on the ladders, running cable ... doing all the outlets and sticking the breakers into the breaker box."
Redirecting his efforts strictly to the Fayetteville office was a matter of convenience since the drive on Gauley Mountain got to be a little too much, as well as fulfilling a desire to spend more time with wife Evie and sons Lee, Philip, Louie, Daniel and David. "The biggest thing was when my kids started playing local sports, I wanted to be there with them. Little did I know I'd spend 20 years in Little League, five or six with the high school baseball team, and with the Ben Argento youth basketball for another 20 years.
"It was a family decision just because I wanted to be around when my kids were growing up. That's why I came to Fayetteville. This really is the part of West Virginia that's almost heaven. I feel real fortunate to have settled here. We sat down our roots here, and we've blossomed here, so it's all been good."
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or follow on Twitter @gb_scribe