After four decades of caring for the dental needs of the neighborhood, the family-run Lee Dental Office is making a big transition this summer. The practice, which has operated at 398 Neponset Ave., has been sold to Sparkle Dental, with nearby offices at 97 Neponset Ave.
For much of its time in Neponset, the office featured husband-and-wife team of Bill Lee and June Warren Lee who met as college students and studied dentistry together in Washington DC before returning to Boston.
Bill, an alumnus of Boston Latin School, and June, an alumna of Girls Latin School in Codman Square, began their careers in Quincy, but in February 1980 relocated to the Neponset Ave. storefront office just around the corner from June’s family home on Chickatawbut Street. They raised two children and practiced together for three decades until June’s death from cancer in 2010.
Bill has continued in a sole practice since that time and will continue to see patients under the new ownership. The Reporter spoke with him last week:
Q. Where did you and your late wife meet?
A. We met in college, at Brandeis University in Waltham. One of the neighborhood boys and June had gone to the same parish at St. Ann’s. Somehow, they got talking and he talked June into applying to dental school. And then she talked me into applying to dental school and Georgetown accepted both of us. So, we decided to go there. We went there together and we were the first official married couple to graduate together from Georgetown Dental School.
Q. June grew up in Neponset and she knew the neighborhood. Is that how you came to choose the neighborhood for your new office?
A. We got very friendly with my dental dealer, an architectural designer, and he kind of helped us out. One of his agents heard about the Neponset Health Center getting a new building and the old health center now stood empty. And so we went and talked to the property owner, Mr. Riley, and we cut a deal and we moved in 40 years ago, in February of 1980.
Q. Did either of you have a specialty or was your practice general dentistry?
A. Neither one of us really had specialties. She did a lot of training for orthodontics. So she branched off and did more orthodontic, for both adults and children, for people who wanted their teeth straightened.
Q. Over the course of the years, how many patients would you say you and she have treated?
A. I would say, over 40 years, we probably saw 5,000- 6,000 patients. Maybe 30 or 40 people [is the number] we see now. We had seen their grandparents, they’re like the third generation we treated. But you know how the neighborhood is, a lot of the young kids we treated, they moved to the suburbs and they’re flourishing.
Q. What made you decide to sell the practice?
A. When my lease was near expiration, I sent the landlord a letter saying it’s time we negotiate a new lease. And he came back to me and said, “you know, I’m sorry, I want to retire. I’m not giving leases out to any of my tenants in this block now. So, I can’t give you a lease, you’re on a 30- day notice.” That’s it.
We always had a lease, and dentistry is such that no dental practice can move easily without making sure the new office, the laws, the landlines, the plumbing are done properly, and the proper electrical outlets for everything, that type of thing. And it takes a while to set up a practice.
So, if you hear, “Okay, you got 30 days to move,” it is almost impossible for that practice to find a location, get it all set up, move all the equipment in, and continue on.
Q. So you looked around for other options and you had to decide what you were going to do, whether you wanted to bring the business lock-stock-and-barrel to a new location or just continue to function the way you’ve been doing?
A. The options were: Sell out if I can to someone who’s willing to take over a practice with no lease. That was also impossible. No dentist would want to buy into that type of situation. The other option I had was to see if I could find a buyer, or I just stop practicing when the day comes and just close up shop for good. End of story.
Q. So you have sold your practice to another dental office in the neighborhood, Sparkle Dental?
A. For my active patients now, their records have been transferred and a letter telling all my active patients what has happened will be sent out.
Q. And if your patients want continue to see you for their dental care, how do they do that?
A. Right now, the phone line at my present location is still there, but if you call that number, it will transfer you automatically to Sparkle and they will make appointments for me. I was up there half a day today. And I’m home right now, just going through the miles of paperwork.
I am going to be an associate at Sparkle Dental for a while. How long kind of depends on the situation and how I feel. I mean, I’ve been up there, this is the third week and it looks good. A couple of my staff have joined me – my hygienist, Nancy, and also Kathy, my dental assistant.
Q. You must have a lot of memories of people you’ve known in your 40 years practice in Dorchester?
A. Most definitely. And I mean, as my son Dan said to me, even though he’s not working, he said that the thing I [will] miss seeing is all those patients that come to the office. So many of them are just such nice people.
Q. You and June, who died of cancer ten years ago, were full partners, at home and at work. Do you think of her as your “better half”?
A. Yes. She was 58. I can truthfully say definitely – yeah, definitely – she was my better half. She made me better.