Before Dr. Jeff Kennedy built a dental practice renowned for its loyalty from patients and its tightly knit staff, he faced some bumps in the road. A long dental relationship soured, wound up in court and almost ruined him.

But, you get what you give, so after persisting and prevailing in a 2003 NC Court of Appeals decision, he focused on building the practice he'd always wanted since graduating from the UNC School of Dentistry in 1984: a practice where patients and their providers are equal parts in the dental care puzzle.

Kennedy believes that content and caring employees create ease and comfort for patients. He knows that everyone brings special talents to the workplace. They also bring their own unique weaknesses. His key to a happy and successful dental office is to create a mix of these qualities in his staff to benefit their patients.

As a result, the Kennedy Dental Group of Jeff Kennedy and his partners, Dick Wagner and Leland Webb, have been consistently recognized over the past 10 years in the "Best of" category among dentists in Chapel Hill and the Triangle. And these are not token awards, by any means.

Scott with his sons — Joe, Aaron, and Hanan

Kennedy Dental Group takes home in the former WCHL building Photo by Susan Murray

Dr. Wagner "retired" from his successful practice in Pennsylvania and added his knowledge and experience to the practice in 2002. Dr. Webb, who taught Kennedy in dental school, was at UNC for 34 years. Still working there one day a week and two with the Kennedy Dental Group, Webb was the perfect addition two years ago to the atmosphere Jeff Kennedy has fostered among his staff.

"Dr. Kennedy really emphasizes having a balance in one's life," says practice administrator Asa Goldenberg, who has been with Kennedy for almost 13 years. "He encourages employees to work no more than 4 days, 3 if they have children, if their personal finances allow."

Goldenberg and Kennedy screen prospective employees carefully, train those they hire and then empower and allow them to do their jobs. Kennedy encourages his staff to keep training, supporting his employees to go back to school, even if it means they may have to leave the practice to pursue their own goals.

When hygienist Crystal Roberts was a part-time clerk for Kennedy, she was a freshman at UNC and planning to attend nursing school. Her intelligence and work ethic soon landed her in the role of insurance coordinator for the practice. Ultimately, she chose to major in dental hygiene and joined the practice after earning her degree from UNC more than 10 years ago. Happily for her patients, Kennedy got back what he gave by supporting her interests. She's remained a stellar member of his staff ever since.

"In every business, people talk about the good places and employers to work for and the bad," Goldenberg says. "The buzz among dental offices around here is that people want to work for the Kennedy Dental Group. We may not be the highest paid in the Triangle, but everyone here loves coming to work. There's no price for that."

Kennedy returns the same admiration for his office manager. "She's the glue that keeps our practice together. She allows the dentists and other staff to remain focused on patient care," he says of Goldenberg

At the time University Square was sold, Kennedy took a personal pay cut to start to prepare for the day he'd have to leave downtown Chapel Hill. That foresight paid off. When it became clear that the practice had to move, Kennedy committed himself to creating a new office that would feel like a home away from home for his patients and his staff.

Dr. Kennedy and his wife raise grass-fed beef on a 26 acre farm, focussing on humane meat production.

Photo by Becky Kennedy

"We spend almost as much time with each other and our family of patients as we do in our real homes and we take pride in welcoming patients into an environment that is comfortable and caring," he says. Anyone who has seen the remodeled former WCHL building on East Franklin Street across from Eastgate would agree that the project was a resounding success.

But a business without a clear vision is little more than bricks and mortar.

"Over the years, we've committed a lot of thought to defining our practice philosophy. Our primary goal is good oral health and function for all of our patients," Kennedy says. "We try to achieve that through what we call 'practical dentistry'. As in any other aspect of life, there's often more than one way to address a problem. Not surprisingly, the best treatment is usually the least invasive or aggressive and is seldom the most expensive. Our doctors and staff try to listen to our patients' concerns and then discuss their options in an open and honest way."

For example, some patients may desire good care, but avoid seeking it out of fear. Kennedy has been certified by the state since 2009 to provide oral conscious sedation for his patients. This service provides light to moderate sedation to calm patient fears or to allow larger procedures to be done in one or a few sessions rather than many appointments. That's practical dentistry.

One of Scott's favorite places to relax and interact with friends and associates is Caffe Driade on Franklin Street.

Kennedy places an emphasis on a close-knit staff living a well-balanced life. Photo by Susan Murray

Kennedy's second love is nature. He is a long supporter of environmental conservation causes. One reason he purchased the property on East Franklin Street was to preserve and encourage the community's enjoyment of the green space and walking trails along Bolin Creek. A significant portion of the building's parking has been reserved for use by the people of Chapel Hill and Carrboro while enjoying the trails.

Jeff Kennedy finds balance in his own life with Becky, his wife of 32 years. They live in Alamance County where he raises grass fed beef on their 26 acres. "Humans are a species of meat eaters and that's not going to change," he says. "What can change, though, is the humane way in which our meat can be produced." His cattle live a comfortable and healthy existence. It just happens that stress free cattle also produce better beef!

Most dentists have good dexterity. Restorative dentists are all sculptors of sorts. So, naturally, Kennedy's other pastime is sculpting models of wildlife in clay and casting them in bronze. Look closely around the office and you may see the results of this hobby.

When WCHL first operated the community radio station from 1721 East Franklin Street back in 1962, who could have predicted that their commitment to Chapel Hill and Carrboro citizens would find a second wind there through a dental practice dedicated to the values and personal attention that were first instilled at that same place so many years ago?

In keeping, you get back what you give.

—written by Staff