After nearly 40 years in dentistry on Nantucket, Dr. Paul Roberts has called it a career, retiring last Friday from the practice he founded in 1983 and passing the torch to the next generation of the Roberts family.
“I’m ready,” Roberts said last week in the waiting room of his practice on Amelia Drive during the office’s lunch hour. “I”m ready to leave. I’ve always enjoyed doing the work. But I’m ready to do other things and take it easy for awhile. It’s been a good life.”
For the thousands of island patients who get their dental care at the practice, Roberts’ retirement doesn’t mean a scramble to find a new dentist. That’s because Roberts’ son Matt and his wife Jamie – both dentists who joined the practice in 2015 – will be carrying on the business together. And under the same name, of course.
“I’m speechless,” Roberts said of being able to hand over the keys to his son and daughter-in-law. “It’s great.”
As Roberts and his family shared stories and laughs in the waiting room last week, a male patient walked in without an appointment.
“I broke my tooth,” he said, holding the tooth up in his hand, as if they needed proof, before dropping it on the floor. They told the man what he needed to do to be seen. It was just the latest of the countless dental emergencies Roberts and his family assist patients with on a daily basis.
An island native who graduated from Nantucket High School in 1973, Roberts has seen generations of island families come through his practice. He still has many patients who have been with him since the start back in 1983.
After graduating from UMass Amherst in 1977 then the NYU College of Dentistry in 1982, Roberts and his wife Margaret returned to the island looking to set up a practice in their hometown. Paul McNamara, the administrator of Nantucket Cottage Hospital in those days, helped make it happen. McNamara offered Roberts one year of free rent for a small office space inside the hospital, near the physical therapy department in the old building.
“It was a little, tiny office,” Roberts recalled. “Enough space to put one chair, a receptionist desk and a small waiting area.”
Over the years, Roberts’ practice moved around inside the hospital and eventually to the Anderson Building behind the main facility. But in 2006, with a new administration in place at the hospital that wanted to use the space for another purpose, Roberts was given a year to find a new location. That prompted the move to Amelia Drive, where he purchased a lot and constructed a new office building for his practice. With the addition of his son and daughter-in-law, the practice continued to grow.
After exploring a career in emergency medicine, Matt Roberts eventually decided to go into dentistry like his father did, despite his initial reluctance to do so.
“It was the last thing I wanted to do,” Matt Roberts said with a laugh. “I absolutely wasn’t going to do it, because he did it. And no one was going to tell me I was following in anyone’s footsteps.”
But he got plenty of exposure to the work his father did and clearly saw the difference it could make in peoples’ lives – especially after events like facial traumas – by giving them their smile back. After one trauma case in particular, in which Matt had seen the victim’s condition in the ER after a bike accident and helped his father with the person’s temporary teeth, he was sold.
“Letting him smile again, I said ‘Ok, you got me. What you do is pretty cool,” Matt said. “I saw the admiration (the patient had), he was so thankful to my dad. It made a huge impression on me.”
Matt attended the Tufts University School of Dental Medicine on a full scholarship from the U.S. Navy, and met his future wife Jamie there on orientation day.
“Knowing his skill set, how great he is at his job, and to learn some of the things he’s learned over 40 years – it’s been great to have that support,” Jamie Roberts said of joining the family practice with her husband. “And to continue growing what he’s built.”
So what does Roberts plan to do in retirement? He’s already got some ideas for a little rest and relaxation that involves a 1942 Jeep that currently sits in pieces in the barn on his property. That, and his seven grandchildren are likely to occupy his time for the foreseeable future.