By Rachel Dutil | Photos by Jessica McCafferty
Visiting the orthodontist is “all about the experience,” according to Dr. Tim McSweeney who strives to make that experience fun and low stress. The doctor, with his wife, Sally, has owned and operated McSweeney Orthodontics on Healey Avenue in Plattsburgh for 20 years. “I straighten teeth and create beautiful, functional smiles,” he said. “But what’s fun is watching the patients’ smile transformations and their increased self confidence that result from the work we do. It’s very rewarding.”
A Non-Traditional Route
Dr. McSweeney grew up in Guatemala and attended an American school. He attended college in Santa Clara, California, studied mechanical engineering and, after graduation, spent six years building satellite structures in the aerospace industry. When that work started to dry up, he began to rethink his career plans. “Sally’s father was a dentist and I liked his lifestyle,” he recalled. “It is a technical field; you use your hands and you help people.” Ready for a change, McSweeney enrolled at Stanford University to complete the biology and organic chemistry requirements he would need for dental school.
Next, the McSweeneys moved to Boston where Tim attended Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. Students who excel in dental school may be given an opportunity to pursue a dental specialty. McSweeney was one of eight students in his class who participated in an orthodontic residency program at Tufts.
“Four years of college, one extra year of pre-requisite requirements, four years of dental school, two years of residency — it was an extensive life sacrifice, but it has been so worth it,” McSweeney emphasized.
After working for three years for a large orthodontic practice in Rhode Island post residency, the McSweeneys relocated to Plattsburgh in 2002. Sally, who worked in the hospitality industry before joining her husband’s practice, relies on her people skills to make people feel welcome and comfortable as they navigate a new world.
A Team Approach
Most of McSweeney Orthodontics patients are children and adolescents who have been referred by their general dentist, although a referral is not required. About 20 percent of patients are adults.
The practice’s treatment coordinator, Margaret Rondeau, has worked with the McSweeneys for 20 years and loves her job. “I have the best job in the world. I love people,” she said.
Typically, new patients meet with Rondeau, who takes photographs, radiographs and sometimes a dental CT scan. If a patient is found to have periodontal disease or has active bone loss, they are referred to a periodontist to be cleared before they begin orthodontics.
Once Dr. McSweeney has the images and has completed his initial exam, he creates a custom treatment plan. Rondeau then works with patients and their families to explain everything that is going to happen so there are no surprises, answers all questions and helps to allay any fears.
“Orthodontics requires a team approach,” Sally explained. “One that includes our team at the office, but also includes the patient. We can get them so far, but patients have to do their part in order to have a successful outcome. As an example, Invisalign is a great product, but it only works if the patient wears it as prescribed.”
The patient’s general dentist is also an integral part of the team, as regular visits are important while wearing braces. “We have really good general dentists in this area,” Dr. McSweeney emphasized.
In addition to Tim and Sally McSweeney, there are seven team members on staff at the practice. The clinical staff is highly trained and all take pride in the work they do and in making patients feel comfortable.
The McSweeneys are all smiles when they talk about their patients. “We have been able to get to know so many wonderful people from all over the North Country,” Sally offered. “There is a lot of laughter in the office. We all sing a goofy song when patients get their braces off. Most people who come here have a great time. It’s a fun place to work.”
Orthodontics for Oral Health
“As we straighten teeth, we provide esthetic components for creating a beautiful smile. But there are also functional components we need to address to make sure the teeth are hitting in the proper way for a healthy bite,” Dr. McSweeney explained.
“Some patients grind their teeth which can cause them to suffer from joint pain and can be debilitating. For some it is so painful they are unable to get a good night’s sleep and they wake up tired and stressed. Teeth grinding is an involuntary action, but is the body’s response to stress. The repeated action of the teeth hitting together can present differently in different patients. Some people’s teeth loosen up, and other’s wear down,” Dr. McSweeney observed.
Crowded teeth is one of the most common issues that McSweeney deals with. When the teeth are too close together, it makes it more difficult to keep them clean. However, treating sleep apnea orthodontically and identifying the condition in children is a growing area for the practice as well. Some patients have a tight lingual frenum – the small piece of skin that connects the tongue to the floor of the mouth. With that condition, the tongue cannot achieve the proper position on the roof of the mouth, creating a narrow upper jaw, which can produce sleep apnea. Expanding the upper jaw can help to improve breathing.
Technology has transformed orthodontics in many ways. “Before I place brackets on a patient, I place them virtually with software, and by doing so, I can see the effects of what happens if I put the brackets in different positions. Also, we are now increasing our use of custom-made braces, where each bracket is 3-D printed to fit each individual tooth in a person’s mouth,” McSweeney explained.
Rondeau appreciates the work Dr. McSweeney does. “He is a genuine person. He goes above and beyond for every patient. Some patients come into the office and are so self-conscious they don’t even want to smile for the pictures. He really changes people’s lives,” she concluded.
8 Healey Ave.