Greensboro dentist to be president of dental association

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Charles Norman was influenced by his childhood dentist to join the profession.

Now, Norman will be influencing dentists all across the country as the American Dental Association’s new president.

Norman, who has practiced in Greensboro for 36 years, will be installed as the association’s 150th president Nov. 5 in New Orleans. He’ll lead an organization of 157,000 members.

Norman was elected president over one opponent by the association’s House of Delegates, a nearly 500-member body. He has spent the past year as president-elect, assisting the current president with his duties.

“It’s a real nice honor to be elected,” Norman said. “It’s a great opportunity because I do get to travel all over the country and see dentists in every environment in the country.”

Norman has operated his practice, Norman Dental, on Oakcrest Avenue, since 1989. But he came to Greensboro fresh out of UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Dentistry.

James Osborne was teaching in one of UNC’s dental clinics and working in a practice in Graham but planned to moved to Greensboro to open his own practice.

He asked Norman to join him.

The two young dentists — Norman had zero experience and Osborne had about four years under his belt — opened an office in a storefront on Lawndale Drive, where they practiced for about 13 years before building the Oakcrest Avenue office.

Osborne, who now works part-time in other dentists’ offices, said Norman has the skills that endear his patients to him, and that he is a careful and gentle practitioner.

“He’s probably one of the best dentists I’ve ever seen,” Osborne said.

He’s also a leader in his field who has been active in professional dental organizations as well as in community service work in Greensboro, such as the Missions of Mercy dental clinics, which provide care to poor and uninsured residents.

“He sees both sides of an issue,” Osborne said. “He’s very pragmatic. He’s an open-minded person. He’s willing to negotiate and solve problems.”

Norman now works in his practice with his son, Matthew.

Among the issues he wants to tackle as president is the debt for dental school graduates. He said the average debt is a staggering $226,000, compared to the average income last year of $192,000 for a general practitioner.

He spoke recently about his profession and his plans as the American Dental Association’s next leader.


“I think all professionals are in a challenging time because of the student debt issue and the cost of establishing a practice is so high. Technology is great, but it’s expensive. And so it’s hard to balance wanting to be modern and up-to-date and have all the latest technology and being a small business owner, particularly if you have other debt. And so I think the challenge is helping our members navigate that and how they can be efficient so that they can be profitable in their practice, but yet still be able to provide the kind of care they want.”

Peer pressures

“I think there’s a lot of trepidation about the health care environment and what’s going to happen with dental insurance. Even though it’s not covered under the (Affordable Care Act), if employers are under a lot of pressure because of increased premium costs for medical, are they going to drop the dental coverage?”

Community service

“Most of the patients I see in those clinic situations don’t need just one tooth removed. They need almost all of them, if not all of them. A lot of it that we see is long-term neglect, whether it be because of personal choice or they can’t afford care or they have mental health issues … whatever it may be. And they haven’t had good preventive care, and they end up with a situation where (there’s) virtually nothing you can salvage.

“Those cases are difficult. I probably don’t see two patients a year that walk in my office like that. Not that kind of need.

“And it’s a difficult, I think, problem from a public-policy standpoint because adults are not covered very well under Medicaid in most states. We’re fortunate. In North Carolina there is adult Medicaid, but it’s limited to basically … just some fillings and extractions. It’s not as robust as it used to be.”

Best part of the job

“I have to say when you transform somebody that has a real dental issue — either a phobia or they’re self-conscious or they can’t eat properly — that’s rewarding.”

Memorable patient

“I had a lady that came in, was 102, and she only had a few teeth left. I said, ‘What can I do for you?’ She says, ‘I want some dentures. I’ve never had them, and I’ve been waiting my whole life, and now I want some teeth.’

By Jonnelle Davis/Winston-Salem Journal