BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – With his parents and grandparents building the generational Palms Restaurant in Fort Madison, the Pothitakis children all had job security, but local dentist Dr. Mark Pothitakis said first and foremost the children all had to get college degrees.
Pothitakis just passed his 25 year mark in dentistry, but said it all started with the work ethic his parents instilled in him.
“Since I was 10 years old mom and dad said they wanted us to go to college. They were okay with us taking over the restaurant, but they wanted us to get our degrees first,” he said.
The path to the dental chair was a curvy ride for Pothitakis, after graduating from Aquinas High School, Pothitakis enrolled at the Iowa State University for a year with the intention of pursuing a degree in engineering.
Pothitakis said he then went to Creighton in Nebraska and got his bachelor of science degree and by his junior year he realized that he wanted to go into either medical or dental school and chose the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.
“My uncle (Jake Rashid) was a dentist in Fort Madison so I’d heard a bit about that. So I applied to dental school and was accepted.”
He graduated in 1992 from dental college, the same time his future wife, Kara, graduated from law school.
“She went to work in Des Moines as a Lawyer for 3 years and we talked about where we were going to be and decided we wanted to be back here. So we came back to Fort Madison in 1995 and got married. Kara worked at a law firm in Burlington for 2 years and we had our first child, Lauren in 1997,” Pothitakis said.
Kara quit her practice to become a full-time mom and the two had four more children over the next seven years.
“Watching Kara..that’s hard work. My work is not nearly as hard as that,” he said.
So Dr. Mark went to work building his dental practice. He said at the outset he never thought about having multiple locations, but he envisioned a more traditional single-office environment.
“I wanted to come back to Fort Madison right away but an opportunity happened where one of my teachers in dental school had an office in New London and he asked me if I wanted to buy it, so I bought it after I graduated. I worked there for about seven years before another dentist in Burlington contacted me about purchasing his business and I did. From there people have approached me or I’ve approached them and since then have purchased nine or ten separate offices,” he said.
Since that time, he has consolidated the practices into five locations in New London, Mt. Pleasant, Burlington, Fort Madison, and Mediapolis. His current office in Fort Madison is at 726 Avenue G.
He says he still enjoys the work and has a staff of about 30 including four other dentists and is looking forward to expanding his business in the south.
Local dentist Dr. Charles Holmes is retiring at the end of this month and will be selling his practice at 4723 Avenue J in Fort Madison to Pothitakis.
Holmes started his career in dentistry in 1977 when he passed his dental exam in Hannibal and had to send it . He graduated in 1977 and immediately set to getting his license.
“After graduating from dental school in 1977, I drove down to Hannibal and took the Missouri dental code exam on June 2nd, which was then mailed to Jefferson City for grading. I called the Missouri Dental Board office in Jefferson City every day to learn if I had passed. When I was informed on June 6th that I had passed, I asked them to hold it and not mail it to me, as I would drive there to pick it up that day, which I did,” Holmes said.
“Three hours later, with my Missouri dental license in hand, I returned to Hannibal and went to work the next day. I guess I was eager to get started.
He worked in Hannibal for six months as an associate before moving back to Fort Madison.
With a $30,000 unsecured loan from Fort Madison Bank and Trust President Anthes Smith, Holmes opened his first practice in Fort Madison in the lower level of Medical Arts Building with 850 square feet. Holmes says today you’re looking at 10 times that amount at a minimum to get started.
After being there for four years Holmes found a weedy lot on 48th Street and started construction in 1981 on his current location.
“I think Mark had a vision years ago when he started hiring associates,” Holmes said. “That’s the way dentistry is going not just in southeast Iowa but all over the country,” Holmes said.
Holmes reminisced about a time when Fort Madison had seven dentists in town and had formed the Fort Madison Dental Society that would meet monthly at Pothitakis’ folks restaurant the Palms Supper Club. But he said overtime the numbers dwindled and the society was discontinued.
He said he will enjoy his retirement.
“I’ve putting off home improvements for several years , which I intend to get started on immediately and will also spend time gardening and visiting the grandchildren in Des Moines.”
He commended Pothitakis on his vision and and seeing how the dentistry industry is going.
Pothitakis said he’s excited about the future.
“He’s retiring and when he finishes I’m going to start renovating that space. I’m very excited about that and I have big plans for that office. There are a lot of people on that side of town or even in Missouri. My goal is to have both offices running and I would see patients downtown and then start to branch out,” he said.
Technology has the biggest impact on dentistry in the 25 years Dr. Pothitakis has been practicing.
“The biggest thing is technology. Digital x-rays have made things much more efficient and anesthesias are more efficient and wear off faster,” he said. “Even the sound of the drill is quieter and the materials are better so that makes the situation more pleasant for the patient, but it’s not perfect. Lasers have found there way in to dentistry for certain procedures but i think they will play even a larger role in the next 10 years. I also think you’ll see records become more automated. Digital impressions are another exciting part of dentistry that has made treatment much easier.”
“You can scan the teeth, hit a button and send that to a lab or to a computer chair-side where you can make a crown right there. That’s cutting edge. Stuff like that. But you still need regular dental care. You would’ve thought that fluoride would just come and take care of everything, but people are living longer lives and then you have pop, candy, and energy drinks. There’s still a lot of need out there and demand for dentists.”
The Pothitakis’ have five children including Lauren, who’s in her junior year at the University of Iowa. The other children are Nicholas, 18, Elyse 16, Claire 14, and Jacob 12. Nicholas graduated from HTC this year and will be attending the University of Iowa next year and the others are in the Holy Trinity Catholic system in Fort Madison.
When asked if any were coming on board with the company, Dr. Pothitakis said he hopes so at some point.
“I just tell them I want them to work hard and be happy. Me and Kara are very proud of them.”