by Justin W. Sanders
William Beam, DDS, MS, is living both of his dreams
When Chicago-based William Beam, DDS, MS, finished college at Pennsylvania's Lehigh University in the early 1990s, he headed straight to Southern California with one thing on his mind.
"The career I had always envisioned for myself was Rock Star," Beam remembers. "Ever since I watched The Monkees as a kid and started playing drums, that's really what I was focused on."
In LA, Beam enrolled in the Musicians Institute, a music school developed and taught by prominent studio musicians. Classmates included future stars like Ray Luzier (current drummer for Korn) and Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Beam joined bands himself, recorded albums, and played concerts at some of the city's most famous venues.
"We played the Roxy, we played the Whiskey [A Go Go]," says Beam, reminiscing. "We were shopping albums, and it was always almost ... almost..."
For 3 years, Beam continued his quest for fame and fortune, working a full-time job (as manager of sweets-purveyor Edelweiss Chocolates in Beverly Hills) and playing music nearly every night. He was doing exactly what he had set out to do. But it wasn't quite enough.
"It was a big deal to come out to Los Angeles," Bill recalls. "My band was playing 5 nights a week. I was doing all that and playing original music, and something just seemed lacking. I knew there had to be more. I remember calling my mom from a Ralphs grocery store at about 1:30 in the morning and saying, 'I think I'm going to change paths here. I think I'm going to be a dentist.' "
Practice Name: Drs Battistoni and Beam Ltd
Location: Oak Park, Ill; LaGrange, Ill
Years in practice: 12
Office square footage: 3,200
Patients per day: 60
Starts per year: 600
Days worked per week: 4
Education: DDS and MS from the University of Iowa
Web site: AwesomeBraces.com
In retrospect, Beam cites many factors that contributed to his about-face from rock 'n' roll to a seemingly incongruous career in oral health care. He was a little burnt out and craved a little professional stability after his time spent in the trenches of one of the most unstable industries imaginable. He had always been a whiz at math and science. He had a sister who was a dental hygienist and an uncle who was a dentist. It ran in the family, and he was pretty sure he'd be good at it. "I have always been good with my hands," he says, "and the dexterity aspect [of dentistry] resonated with me."
But more than anything, a life in medicine meant a life-long focus on service, which appealed to Beam immensely. "Any job I've ever had has been service-oriented," he says. "It's very gratifying to work with people and make them happy."
Upon arriving at his decision, Beam approached his new course with the same drive and efficiency he had brought to his drumming. "I cut back my work schedule at the chocolate shop and started spending some time with my personal dentist, who hired me on as an assistant. He would explain everything as we went along and took me out to dinner with colleagues to talk about what I could expect from the career."
Beam is tuned in to patient Jaida Fries, with backing vocals from staff members Nancy Beresheim (left) and Jane Smith. All photos by John Merkle
Beam, seen here with Jolanta Orban, Jane Smith, and Nancy Beresheim, says that while music is a passion, his mission as an orthodontist is tocreate "a true service-oriented atmosphere."
Soon, he was completing academic prerequisites at UCLA and applying to dental schools. Five years after arriving in LA, Beam packed his moving boxes again, headed for the Midwest and a master's degree in orthodontics from the University of Iowa. The transition from total music immersion to total dentistry immersion was surprisingly easy.
"I think if I'd have [pursued orthodontics] right out of college I would have had this 'what if' feeling," he says. So going to school, I threw myself into it like I never had done before, because the first time [as an undergraduate] I was just biding my time, waiting to be a rock star. But this time, I was focused. I'd always done well in school, but in dental school I really relished learning."
After graduating with honors, Beam set his sights on a metropolitan locale where he could pursue his new career without leaving his first love behind.
"Even in dental school I was playing in bands and performing," Beam says, "and I thought there would be more of an opportunity to combine my interests in a bigger area. So I looked at practices in several cities. I knew Chicago pretty well, and as I was looking into different positions I met my partner there, and we had similar treatment outlooks."
Richard Battistoni, DDS, was an established orthodontist whose partner was ready to retire. Battistoni was looking to take his practice in a new direction and found a kindred spirit in Beam, a self-described "big tech geek" excited to explore cutting-edge trends in orthodontics. Drs. Battistoni + Beam Ltd was born.
"One of the things I told Rick when I came in was we need to make quite an overhaul, and he agreed," Beam says. "He was really enthusiastic to have someone come in with fresh ideas. It started with some new appliances, then a large practice renovation, and then a progressive incorporation of new technology."
Utilizing the entire suite of Dolphin Management software products, the practice moved its patient records system from paper to digital files, with benefits ranging from superior case presentation to keeping the day's schedule running on time.
Over time they implemented an iCAT machine, a diode laser, TADs, and other sophisticated modern equipment. Beam finds keeping pace with constantly changing orthodontic trends "pretty stimulating. The difficult part is separating the pseudoscience from the manufacturers' claims. There's so much out there, and it's real easy to get caught up in claims and not do the homework."
Beam did his homework with particular care in 2009, when he and Battistoni began seriously considering adopting SureSmile.
"I kind of watched it for a while, and then noted that Lee Graber [DDS, MS, PhD], current president of the AAO and a very well-respected colleague here in Illinois, began using it. He'd been like me, watching the product develop, and finally adopted SureSmile in his office. I had some enlightening conversations with him and his daughter Katie about their experiences, and spoke with some other great orthodontists in the area using the technology. I discovered that there would be some peer-reviewed journals publishing some studies backing up the company's claims, and so with that we made the switch about a year and a half ago, and have never looked back."
In addition to its practical value, Beam was surprised to find that SureSmile engaged both his musical and occupational interests.
"I was talking to the SureSmile trainers and telling them I was into digital recording," he chuckles, remembering, "and they said it would be a huge advantage because people using creative software have an easier time adapting to the SureSmile software. I'm already taking something nontechnical like music and working with it in a very technical way. With SureSmile, we're taking something considered 'art science' and putting it into a computer. It's kind of like getting back to your biomechanics basics but using computer technology to help achieve the results you want."
Technical prowess is not the only point where Beam's hobby informs his profession. As a performer, he has a keen understanding of audience dynamics. Simply put, he knows how to please a crowd, and he projects this sensibility into his practice. "I can't tell you how often someone goes out of the way to tell us how much they love our office," he says. From video games in the lobby to a "Wheel of Ortho" patients can spin for prizes, Drs. Battistoni + Beam Ltd never fail to provide a "true service-oriented atmosphere. We enjoy it, and the patients enjoy it. It's not a technique; it's a philosophy, it's in our mission statement. As a parent or a patient, people are going to expect quality—that's first and foremost—but they're judging you as much as anything on the environment in which they receive their services."
In the summer of 2007, Beam's office achieved a personal fun apex with the "B & B Band Bash," an outdoor celebration featuring food, games, a "Dunk the Doc" tank, and, of course, music. Patients were invited to play with their own bands, though the day's real highlight was the headlining act: Beam's alternative rock band Unibrow, featuring Bill Beam on the drums. As his practice has developed, Beam has never lost sight of his artistic roots. In fact, you could say he has enjoyed even more musical success as "merely" a hobbyist.
In 2009, while in the midst of planning an upcoming party, Beam approached musician Pat Dinizio after seeing him perform. A rather famous singer and songwriter, Dinizio is best known as frontman for The Smithereens, a multiplatinum rock band that scored several hit singles during the 1990s, including "Blood and Roses" and "A Girl Like You."
In more recent years Dinizio has pioneered what's called "the living room concert," Beam says. "In-between Smithereens shows, you can book him to set up a small show where you throw a party and he's the featured performer. He feels it really lets him connect with his fans."
Beam hired Dinizio to perform a living room concert, never dreaming he was about to enjoy the kind of magical "plucked from obscurity" moment most people only read about.
"He always lets people jam with him at [the living room shows]" Beam says, "but he's not expecting people at a pro level. I got to play drums with him, and the first song we did, he gave me a spontaneous drum solo. We only played three songs, but afterward he said, 'Wow, I'd like to play with you again.' I didn't think he was serious, but around New Year's Eve last year he called up and said he had three shows coming up and needed a drummer. I found out later he was originally counting on Jimmy Chamberlin of the Smashing Pumpkins. We've been playing together ever since. I used to be a big Smithereens fan, and now, performing these songs with Pat in front of hundreds of people has been surrealistic. Some of them I used to play covers of in college!"
Though his work with Dinizio is his highest-profile gig, it's only one of a startling number of musical successes Beam has enjoyed since leaving Los Angeles. One of Beam's groups, Gertrude, opened for bands such as 10,000 Maniacs and Blues Traveler. Another, Ballistic Edna, had a single that Beam produced and recorded in his bedroom recording studio featured on an episode of Dawson's Creek. His regular band, Unibrow, recently recorded with the legendary indie producer Steve Albini and performed on nationwide television. And recently, while attending Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy Camp, Beam was approached by yet another rock star interested in playing some future gigs together. Because the arrangement is yet to be confirmed, Beam would not elaborate beyond that, admitting only that this fellow is "currently touring Europe" and that "you've heard of his band."
While it can be challenging to juggle his career with music and his personal life—he's married and the owner of three rescued English bulldogs—Beam adamantly maintains that his patients are "first and foremost. Everyone knows I do [music] for fun, because it's a passion as opposed to making music a career. That's the great thing about orthodontics: You create your own schedule.
"To be honest, I'm a lot happier now [playing music] in that I do it because I want to and not because I have to. There's not this pressure to 'make it.' In orthodontics there's a lot of room for creativity. It isn't just putting brackets on people's teeth. It's creating the whole patient experience and keeping your staff happy, the different aspects from marketing to staff development to refining clinical techniques. You can always be learning. It's a stimulating field to be in. [I've been asked], 'If you won the lottery, would you quit orthodontics and do music?' and I say no."
He hesitates, then laughs and utters perhaps the most revealing insight into the character of William Beam, Rocker Orthodontist.
"What I would do is continue to do what I'm doing. I just wouldn't charge people."
Justin W. Sanders is a contributing writer for Orthodontic Products. For more information, contact