By JOHN P. EVANS III
Serving more than 1,200 dental patients, the Smiles husband and wife team of Dr. Patricia Higgins and Dr. Rowland Holsinger are well-known for the caring and personal relationships they have built their practice around and for how they strive to treat each patient like a member of their family.
The doctors are well-known beyond their practice, as well, for their community service and the many charities and fundraising events to which they attach their names. But their involvement goes beyond just “lending their name” to an event, as they personally involve themselves.
Among the events and fundraisers Higgins and Holsinger are involved in are many they conduct themselves. Their more public events include the annual White-A-Thon, Halloween Candy Trade-In and Patient Appreciation Picnic. Over the years these events have raised thousands of dollars for local charities, including just under $71,000 for Tuckahoe Habitat for Humanity and more than $200,000 for the Maryland Food Bank. Over the years, they have also been involved in the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, church activities for the Denton Church of the Brethren, and school activities in support of their two daughters. They have also given monetary support to other charities such as the Samaritan House, Flags for Heroes and Boxes to the Vets.
Very likely, if you live in Caroline County you have been touched in some way by the Smiles duo, either through their practice directly or through one of their charitable endeavors.
“Both Rowland and I were taught by our parents that giving back to the community was important and that a single act of kindness could make a difference,” said Dr. Higgins. “Most of the groups we have chosen, we chose because they help people in the county or because the money we raise stays in the county.”
The couple met in dental school at the University of Maryland and though they never made a formal plan to open a practice together, eventually married and after following separate career paths, ultimately opened their practice “Smiles by Holsinger and Higgins” in 1986.
“I grew up next door, literally,” said Dr. Holsinger, who added that his parents gave them the land where they built their office. The office, located on River Road just outside Denton, houses eight dental rooms where all the chairs offer pleasant views out large windows that look over the flora and fauna that make up the five-acre landscape.
They celebrated 30 years in business last year. This past January, they were honored by the Caroline Chamber of Commerce as the Business Couple of the Year. In 2007, they were honored as the county’s Most Beautiful People in the state competition.
“We’ve been blessed to have such a successful business, though we have worked hard over the years to keep our practice up to date with the latest in technology and to continue our commitment to our patients and the community,” said Holsinger. “It’s because we’ve been so successful in business that we are able to give back to the community.”
The most recent, and latest, charitable endeavor that the duo has been involved in is the Eastern Shore Mission of Mercy (ESMOM), a spin-off of the state organization founded in 2010. The organization bi-annually provides two-day events that provide free dental services to those in need. Holsinger, who is the clinical lead and chief organizer for the event, became involved with the the Missions of Mercy in 2013 after he and his wife volunteered for a similar event in Roanoke, Virginia.
“I read the (300-page) manual from the event and when I was done I said ‘we can do this,’ “said Holsinger.
“It took hundreds of hours and meetings, meetings, meetings,” said Higgins of the startup.
“And begging,” added Holsinger, laughing.
The first Eastern Shore MOM event was held in 2013 and was continued in 2015 and again this past March, being held inside the Wicomico Civic Center in Salisbury. This year’s event had over 1,100 volunteers and provided $1.126 million in free dental services. Altogether, 116 licensed dentists and hygienists provided their services for free to 1,165 patients.
Dr. Higgins said this kind of free service is needed on the Eastern Shore because of the number of low-income families who can’t afford to pay for dental insurance or the services they need, as well as the fact that many of the families’ water supplies are provided by well water, which unlike water provided from public systems, is not fluoridated.
“It’s all well water, no fluoride. In these places, we see people with a different level of dental problems,” said Higgins, who related how surprised first-time volunteers are at the large turnout for these events.
Services offered through the ESMOM event include extractions, fillings and cleanings.
Holsinger and Higgins both offered that the good feeling they get from providing dental services to so many needy people, and seeing so many other doctors and individuals providing their services as well, makes the hard work and hours of preparation well worth it.
“This event is especially rewarding to us. It is an overwhelmingly humble experience to serve alongside other dental professionals and volunteers to provide care to those who need it the most,” said Holsinger.
Higgins said that “warm feeling” of helping others is something they both experience time and time again. And she said that although they don’t look for recognition for their volunteerism, they do take pride in all they do in the community as well as in their practice.
“It’s a joy to be in a position where we can help our community in so many ways,” she said.
“If not us, then who?” added Holsinger.
“We hadn’t set out to be involved in so many activities. It just happened that we got involved in all these projects, a little at a time,” said Higgins.
The couple’s annual White-A-Thon fundraiser – a tooth-whitening event which began in 2000 and takes place every spring, has been so successful that Tuckahoe Habitat for Humanity named a house in their honor in November, 2014. The construction of the house, located on High Street, was funded through $64,000 in donations raised through the White-a-thons and is called “The Smiles House.” The money raised came from the donation of fees charged to the patients who have the whitening services.
“When we started the tooth-whitening program we wanted to create an event that not only tied into our profession, but that also gave back to our community,” said Holsinger. “We could never have anticipated that the fundraiser would still be going strong (17 years later).”
Smiles also offers a unique form of sedation dentistry that allows patients who are normally fearful of visits to the dentist a more relaxing experience through a procedure called Oral Conscious Sedation. Smiles by Holsinger and Higgins are among just 24 dentists in the state who are licensed to perform this procedure.
Oral sedation dentistry is a medical procedure involving the administration of oral sedative drugs to facilitate a dental procedure and reduce a patient’s fear and anxiety related to the experience. Dental patients with generalized anxiety, a fear of needles, prior dental trauma, or generalized fear of the dentist can take a low dose of oral medication the day before treatment to reduce their anxieties. The medication also helps reduce the memory or the sights and smells of the dental office to avoid recall of any trauma. The sedative effect allows more dentistry to be completed in fewer appointments as well as allowing complex procedures to be performed in less time.
”Rowland and I place value in being the best we can be,” said Higgins. “We have always made continuing education for ourselves, and our staff members, a priority. That’s why we spend so much time and money to send our staff to classes and seminars all over the country, to make them better at what they do and to establish a team approach in our practice.”
So whether it is for their patients or for the community, Holsinger and Higgins feels it is their responsibility to give back for all they have received and to bring smiles to all those they come in contact with.
“We have been very fortunate. The community has been very good to us and in turn we want to be good to the community,” said Holsinger. “Our practice allows us to do other things outside dentistry.”
“It’s that simple,” added Higgins. “You help out when you can.”
“We feel we have a commitment to our patients and our community,” said Holsinger. “We used those beliefs to establish our practice 30 years ago. I believe they are a reason why the practice is still thriving and why we still love what we do.”
Despite the fact that Holsinger and Higgins has a patient roll of 1,200, the staff is relatively small. Besides the dentists, there are just two dental assistants (Tarragh and Michele), one hygienist (Abby) and two office administrators (Megan and Kristen).
The doctors say they have benefitted from the stability of the staff and its close-knit nature.
“We have been blessed to have so many people who come to work with us, remain with us. We definitely think of our practice as a family,” Higgins said. “Our staff also takes an interest in our community activities and gets involved.”
For more information on Smiles by Holsinger and Higgins, call 410-479-3644 or visit smilesby.com.