Growing up in small town Kentucky, Dr. William Caldon DMD can’t remember a major epiphany that set him on his life course in dentistry – but when he was in fifth or sixth grade, his dad pointed out that a local dentist up the street had a good, comfortable life and suggested, “Why don’t you become a dentist?”
Still sharing the value of a smile—and helping repair and create thousands of them for his grateful patients–nearly 40 years after graduating from the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, the well-traveled former Air Force Colonel has over the past 17 years continued to build a thriving small town practice in Upstate New York with Dr. Michael T. O’Connor and Dr. Donnon “DJ” O’Neill.
With locations in Plattsburgh and Lake Placid (both about an hour south of Montreal), High Peaks Dental perfectly combines small town values and old school personal customer relations with such modern, cutting edge services such as Lumineers™, laser gum therapy, CEREC® Crowns, Invisalign® and Sedation Dentristy – along with a trademarked Six Month Smiles® technique that utilizes nearly invisible clear braces to gently straighten and align teeth in an average time of just six months.
Dr. Caldon recently penned a chapter called “The Importance of a Smile” in the recent Amazon bestseller “Out Front: Business Strategies from Frontline Entrepreneurs,” a book that focuses on a range of successful business and interpersonal success strategies. He has spent over 37 years repairing smiles and is proud to contribute to the national conversation regarding the importance of image in the workplace. In the wake of the book’s publication, he has appeared in discussions on NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox.
“The longer I am in dentistry, the more I like it,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to help people and it’s a business that offers almost immediate gratification. When people come to me in pain, I love that I can take care of them and alleviate it right away – and help prevent them from having bigger problems in the future.”
Though Dr. Caldon has long embraced the digitization of everything from X-rays to client records, he says the basics, the human elements, of dentistry, have not changed throughout his multi-faceted career. “One of our greatest challenges is the anxiety associated with what we do,” he says. “The mouth is a very private part of the body, and we always have to assure the person in the chair that he or she is in good, safe hands. It’s funny how people arrive, covered in tattoos and are still afraid of needles in their mouth! Oral conscious sedation, where we administer a pill that helps the patient relax and forget all that has occurred in the chair, is helpful when this is the case.”
Post dental school, Dr. Caldon took a unique route towards his present small town private practice – which found him serving his country and providing oral health care to our military members in various places throughout the world for two decades. Typically, when we hear someone is an officer in the Air Force, we will ask about the specifics of planes and missions flown. But serving a behind the scenes role in oral healthcare, Dr. Caldon did all his “flying” while working on service men and women in the dentist’s chair.
He had graduated college at 19 and at 23, was the youngest graduate in his dental school class. Realizing it would be a challenge to immediately start making ends meet in private practice, he joined the service for the opportunities it offered for more experience and to “pick up speed and learn new things. A few years into his military career, when he thought he might re-enter civilian life, the Air Force offered him an opportunity to work in Southern Italy for three years. After that, the Air Force offered him another carrot in the form of additional training in a two year Advanced Education Program in General Dentistry (AEGD) in San Antonio. In addition to Texas and Italy, his military career took him and his growing family to Michigan, Illinois, England, New York and McGuire AFB in New Jersey (where he spent the last year of his military career.
Highlights along the way included the two year general dentistry residency program, in which he received intensive training working closely with numerous specialists, including oral surgeons, periodontists, prosthodontists, pedodontists, endodontists and orthodontists. When Dr. Caldon completed that, he was assigned as an instructor and Officer in Charge of a one year general dentistry residency, which provided additional training in all phases of dentistry to new Air Force Dental Officers. In addition he was commander of dental clinics for several years in England, Plattsburgh and New Jersey. Dr. Caldon was the last dentist to leave the closing Plattsburgh Air Force Base – which is near where his future partner Dr. O’Connor had originally established his practice.
Explaining the key roles that dentists play in the armed services, Dr. Caldon says, “Our main task was to make sure that the rest of the force was dentally fit to perform their duties, so that when our service men and women were off in remote locations, they wouldn’t have any dental issues that would interfere with their ability to do their missions. We were trained also to help manage trauma, so that if we were ever in a literal wartime scenario, we could work in the field as triage officers and provide life sustaining medical care.
“I think the main skills I learned doing dentistry in the military that I could apply later to private practice were leadership—because I was in charge of large organizations—and people skills, because in group practice there were always opportunities to learn from and teach other people. I learned an awful lot being a teacher as well,” he adds.
One of the reasons Dr. Caldon decided to retire as a full colonel after 20 years is the fact that as his responsibilities grew, he found himself engaged more in administrative tasks than hands on dentistry – and he missed the one on one interaction with patients and the difference he felt he made in their lives. Closing in on his retirement at age 43, he spread the word among the regional dental community that he was looking to continue his dental career in the Plattsburgh area. At the time, Dr. O’Connor was interested in transitioning into retirement from his practice and was looking for an associate he could groom to take his place.
Having the good fortune of partnering with Dr. O’Connor, Dr. Caldon became the catalyst for changing the face of the practice. Over the next handful of years, he helped expand the original location beyond its longtime set up as a single four treatment room office – and later the practice expanded to a second office (Saranac Lake, which is now the Lake Placid location). As Dr. Caldon’s vision for a larger business that better served the community (or as he called it, “conscious capitalism”) took shape, Dr. Caldon and Dr. O’Connor later added another partner , Dr. O’Neill. Their dental staff also includes their associate Dr. Andrea Beanan, DDS.
When Dr. Caldon joined the practice, it had one office, four treatment rooms and four employees. The two offices now have 36 employees and 15 treatment rooms total, with extra space that can accommodate up to 29 treatment rooms. Dr. Caldon’s leadership and entrepreneurial skills played major roles in growing the business.
“In 2002, we started attending classes in practice building, and stepped up our marketing efforts significantly,” he says. “Our education in this realm continues to this day. I’m happy to say after all these years, that Dr. O’Connor is still with the practice. I think he felt revitalized and liked the fact that I pushed for a lot of changes and expansion when I joined the practice. I saw this as a wonderful opportunity to continue his great work with the community, but in a way that would reach more people who needed the kind of personal care and commitment we could provide. Our expansion has all sorts of beneficial effects on the community, not only being able to accommodate more patients but in terms of providing more employment because of our growing support staff needs.
“In the early days, of our expansion, I wore many hats,” Dr. Caldon says. “I was not only a dentist, but the chief marketing officer, human resources director, financial officer and chief operations officer. For our business to be successful, the principal dentists had to do all that. But as we’ve grown, we now have excellent full time professionals in those positions – among them, CFO Kevin Conroy and our Community Relations Director Paul Gingrich.”
A devoted family man, Dr. Caldon has been married to Margaret, a pediatric nurse and his childhood sweetheart, almost 40 years. Dr. Caldon’s legacy of military service has carried on to all four of their adult children, and several have also followed his footsteps into dentistry. Josh, the father of three boys, is a graduate of the Air Force Academy, a Major and C-130 pilot in the Air National Guard and is a PHD candidate in International Relations at the University of Albany. Boone is a graduate of SUNY Albany and the Boston University School of Dentistry. Having attended the same two year General Dentistry Program at Lackland AFB in San Antonio that his father attended, he is continuing to follow in his father’s footsteps by now teaching at a midwestern one year Air Force AEGD program, this one located at Wright Patterson AFB in Dayton, Ohio. Dr. Caldon says Boone will eventually run the residency program.
Dr. Caldon’s son Seth, formerly a dental student at Boston University on an Army scholarship, is now a dentist and captain in the Army. He and his wife and one year old son, after leaving a one year AEGD in Washington state, are now currently attending a two year AEGD residency at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. The Caldons’ daughter Lizzie, who is married to a New York State trooper, is a cardio pulmonary technician in the Schenectady Air National Guard and a recent graduate in Human Biology from the University of Albany. She is pregnant with her third child and the Caldons’ seventh grandchild.
One of the greatest challenges Dr. Caldon recalls facing in making the transition from military to civilian practice was on the financial end. In the military, Uncle Sam pays all the bills uniformly, while in private practice, the office has to work with each individual on services and fees that work within their budgets and payment timetables.
“The essential things I’ve learned while working with Dr. O’Connor and High Peaks Dental is that personal connections are a vital part of the business – and that you need to give people more value than they pay you for,” Dr. Caldon says. “Learning from my many mentors over the years, and from being part of a successful practice for almost 20 years, I have learned first, that you need to have a product people need. But to really be successful and personally fulfilled, you need to give them more value than they give you in money.”
“I know this sounds ironic coming from a dentist, a profession so many people associate with pain,” he adds, “but our goal at High Peaks Dental is to create as wonderful an experience as you can have from the minute you call our office to the time you leave after your treatment is complete. We hope that people leave feeling like they have never been treated this well by dental professionals – and that includes dental chairs that massage you while we work!”