From performing roots canals while on a swaying U.S. Navy warship to repairing a bomb-sniffing dog's broken canine tooth, endodontist Gregory Engel, DMD, MS has seen many things in his 16 years of practicing dentistry.
As the owner of Beach Endodontics in Virginia Beach, Va., Engel, 42, specializes in root canals and although some may view the procedure as unpleasant, Engel strives to ease patients' fears, especially those with dental phobias.
On a daily basis, Engel oversees various aspects of his practice, from patient care where he performs regular root canals, re-treatments of previous root canals and root canal surgeries, to managing staff to providing continuing education to local dentists and dental groups through lectures.
Helping people to heal by treating those in pain is one of the most rewarding aspects of his job, according to Engel.
"It provides great satisfaction to call the patient the next day and find out that they are out of pain and/or improving. No one likes to be in pain," he said.
In dealing with patients, Engel attempts "to make an impossible clinical situation look easy so that patients aren't 'freaked out.'"
Among the challenges Engel faces of owning his dental practice are managing a busy office when a staff member is out sick; trying to stay on schedule each and every day in order to assure patients are seen promptly without too much of a wait; and accommodating emergency patients on a tight time schedule so they do not have to spend another night in pain.
Engel entered the dental field in 1996. Upon graduating from Elk County Christian High School in 1988, he earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry with a mathematics minor in 1992 from Allegheny College. He completed dental school in 1996 at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. Engel's first general practice residency took place in 1997 at the National Naval Medical Center for one year. In 2004, he completed his second residency at National Naval Dental Center, where he earned an Endodontics Certificate. Engel then completed a masters program in oral biology, also in 2004, from George Washington University.
Greg is the son of Tom and Mary Lee Engel of St. Marys and the grandson of the late John and Winnie Schreiber and the late Nick and Mabel Engel. His siblings are Matthew and Martin.
Engel and his wife Amy reside in Chesapeake, Va., with their two children Lauren, 6 and Nicholas, 2.
While in dental school, Engel was awarded a U.S. Navy scholarship. He joined the Navy upon graduation and served for 10 years, from 1996-2006. Following his first residency, Engel was a general dentist for six years, after which he entered into his second specialty residency for two years. In total, Engel has been a specialist for eight years, two in the Navy and six in private practice.
During his service in the Navy, Engel was stationed as a general dentist aboard the USS Shreveport for two years. He acted as the director of a Navy branch dental clinic in Chesapeake, the Northwest Securities Group Activity, for one year. He was also the staff endodontics mentor for the Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency program at Camp Lejune, N.C., for one year.
In addition, Engel has acted as past president of the Virginia Beach Dental Study Club for three years. He explained study clubs are a way for dentists to remain local while obtaining the necessary continuing education credits needed for state licensing.
Engel recollected a particular interesting procedure when he teamed up with a veterinarian as they worked on a decorated bomb-sniffing military dog credited for saving numerous lives while deployed to Iraq in 2005.
"The dog had broken one of its canine teeth during training. Apparently, those dogs need their canine teeth, as without them their demeanor becomes too passive," Engel explained.
While contemplating a future career, Engel said he originally wanted to be an optometrist or ophthamologist, having job-shadowed with Dr. Luis Lu at Elk Regional Health Center.
"I loved science and was fascinated with the body and how it worked," Engel said.
However, following a dentist appointment with local dentist, the late Dr. Phil Damore, during which the pair discussed Engel's potential future plans, Damore suggested he consider dentistry.
"I told him about my interests in science and how the body worked and he asked me if I like to work with my hands. And I said, 'yes.' The more I thought about it, the more I felt that dentistry was a good fit," Engel said. "In dentistry, there are several specialty areas such as orthodontics, periodontics, oral surgery, pedodontics, prosthodontics, endodontics, etc. I had the opportunity as a general dentist to perform treatment in many of these areas, but I really enjoyed the technology and treatment complexities of endodontics."
He noted those interested in pursuing a career in dentistry should enjoy science and working with people.
"Be compassionate and understanding, as people in pain act differently than they would otherwise," Engel added. "Good hands makes a difference, too."
According to Engel, he wouldn't be where he is today without the support of his family, especially his parents.
"I know how much they sacrificed to be able to provide me and my two brothers with an excellent education. My mom always told me that I could do or be whatever I put my mind to," Engel said.
He added that his parents instilled in him important behaviors necessary in his field.
"My mom is very compassionate and empathetic-- always following the 'Golden Rule.' My Dad is a very diligent and detail-oriented person. Endodontics requires just that, compassion and empathy for those in pain, yet focused and detailed in the level of care that they receive," Engel said. "I can't forget about my wife, Amy. She has been a huge supporter of my career through the years, especially during residency when she spent little to no time with me."
Engel also credited his teachers, coaches and mentors, including Greg Snelick, Jim Wortman, Aaron Straub and Fr. Ted Marconi, at St. Marys Parochial Elementary and ECCHS for making a huge impact on him.
"People like that all touched me in some way that helped me succeed and thrive in what I do," he said. "As an example, anyone who knows Coach Straub will know how he pushes to take care of the 'little things' when it comes to basketball. When applied to real life, those 'little things' aren't so little. Those little things are huge and make the biggest difference in what I do."
While growing up in St. Marys, Engel delivered newspapers for The Daily Press, delivered flowers for Lyn-Clare flower shop and The Greenhouse, and spent his summers lifeguarding at the Community Pool and at Keystone.
Outside of work, Engel enjoys woodworking, golf, home projects and spending time with his family.
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