An Insider’s View: Penn Oral Surgeons

Friday, January 31, 2020
An Insider’s View: Penn Oral Surgeons

“All the Oral Maxillofacial Surgeons at PDFP Are Both Dentists and Physicians.”

The prospect of oral and maxillofacial surgery might sound scary if it’s unfamiliar. To give our readers and patients a more personalized look into the oral surgery experience at Penn Dental Family Practice, we recently interviewed four of our oral surgeons: Dr. Ford, Dr. Giannakopoulos, Dr. Wang, and Dr. Carrasco.

Below, you’ll find the details of our conversation with each of these doctors: Why they went into the field, how oral surgery has progressed in recent years, what they love most about being at PDFP, and more! Don’t miss out on the chance to find out more about these oral surgeons near you and what makes this specialty so important.

Image of oral surgeons at Penn Dental Family Practice.

1. Can you tell us a little about your background?

Dr. Ford: I grew up just outside of Albany New York in the town of Niskayuna. I came to Pennsylvania for my undergraduate education at Gettysburg College, and have lived in Pennsylvania ever since. I went to both dental and medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. Then, I completed my residency in oral and maxillofacial surgery at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. After completing my residency, I entered private practice in the suburbs outside Philadelphia, until coming back to Penn where I am now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Oral and Maxillofacial surgery.

Dr. Giannakopoulos: I’m from Chicago and went to dental school at the University of Illinois-Chicago. I received my specialty training in oral and maxillofacial surgery at Penn and have acted as residency program director of the program since 2012. There are 24 residents in the program. It’s a double degree: They earn a certificate in oral and maxillofacial surgery as well as a medical degree.

I am also a temporomandibular joint (TMJ) surgeon, specializing in neurotoxin Botox for therapeutic purposes. I’ve been using this remarkable treatment with success since 2005, working with other faculty members at Penn to help patients access this treatment option.

Dr. Wang: I was born and raised in Texas. I went to undergrad at Trinity University in San Antonio,TX, majoring in business and minoring in biology. Then I received a Master’s in Public Health in Washington D.C. at George Washington University, where I focused on epidemiology and also worked at the Virginia Department of Health on outbreak disease investigation.

I then went to work for the Massachusetts Department of Health in Boston, but then decided to pursue a career in dentistry as I always enjoyed working with my hands and the thought of directly helping people in a health-related way. I went to dental school at the University of Pennsylvania, then stayed at Penn to obtain my medical degree and specialize in Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery.

Currently, I am an Assistant Professor and the Director of the Oral Surgery Clinic at Penn Dental school, where I have the privilege of teaching almost all of the graduating Penn dental students the basics of oral surgery and dental extractions.

Dr. Carrasco: I grew up in the Detroit area and went to the University of Detroit Mercy for dental school. I did a general practice residency at UCLA. After that, I went to the University of Miami for medical school. Then I enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania for my surgical training in oral maxillofacial surgery, which I completed in 2002.

2. What motivated you to pursue dentistry and, in particular, your specialty?

Dr. Ford: My father is a physician and my mother is a nurse, so I was able to see the impact they had on our community as I was growing up. I went to dental school with plans to become a general dentist. It wasn’t until my third year of dental school that I had the opportunity to observe an orthognathic surgery, (a surgery needed when someone has misaligned jaws and can’t chew effectively). Over the course of a few hours, I saw the surgeon transform that person’s life. This experience led me to specialize in the field of oral and maxillofacial surgery.

Dr. Giannakopoulos: I trained under Dr. Peter Quinn, the former chairman at Penn and the head of clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania. When I was a resident, I got involved in a study from 1995-2005. I was a co-investigator in the study and wrote one of the landmark papers for this patient group. Before that time, all TMJ prostheses were removed from the market because they were causing issues for patients. Dr. Quinn ended up inventing the prosthesis that we use now. Penn is at the vanguard of TMJ surgery nationwide.

Dr. Wang: My dad was a physician and I saw how he helped people, so I always thought of doing something in the healthcare field. Once I got to dental school, I became drawn to oral surgery because it offers so many ways to help people. What really caught my interest was something called orthognathic surgery. Orthognathic surgery is performed to correct severe malocclusions like overbites and underbites, and when people can’t chew efficiently because of these problems.

The procedure involves separating the jaws and moving them into a better position. This surgery can be life changing from a functional and esthetic standpoint. A large part of why I became an oral surgeon is so that I can help people who require this surgery.

Dr. Carrasco: I had the goal of being an oral surgeon since high school. I had the opportunity to work for a local oral surgeon in Detroit as a dental assistant and eventually, as an office manager. My goal from a young age was always to do what I’m doing now!

3. How have you seen your specialty change since you began practicing oral and maxillofacial surgery?

Dr. Ford: The biggest change in our field has been the incorporation of virtual surgical planning and other digital tools that help us to plan our surgeries and fabricate patient specific implants/hardware. These technologies also allow us to to prosthodontically plan and place dental implants with extreme precision. The advent of biologic modifiers such as Recombinant Human BMP-2 has allowed for better tissue engineering and more successful outcomes in complex cases.

Dr. Giannakopoulos: There have been many advances in implantology. When I was in dental school, it was just beginning to become popularized. Now, there are oral maxillofacial surgeons who have a better understanding of the needs of this patient group and can position the fibula to support implants. We’re also doing a lot of virtual-surgical planning, which helps us to know exactly where the implant will be placed.

Dr. Wang: From my experiences as an oral surgeon, I’ve seen changes in the utilization of certain technologies, such as virtual surgery planning and 3D printing. This is particularly true for orthognathic surgery to use computers and software to plan where to move jaws, and also for complex dental implant surgeries. We now plan these surgeries on 3D models on the computer, and can 3D print guides and splints, rather than plan and create these by hand.

Dr. Carrasco: The majority of the things we do technically aren’t that different. But the planning we do for patients is drastically different. Now, we have the ability to use planning technologies and 3D imaging to determine the best course of action, particularly in cases requiring reconstruction, implants, and orthognathic surgery.

4. What is your favorite part of your work at PDFP?

Dr. Ford: I get to see a wide range of patients with various needs, which keeps each day interesting. I enjoy meeting new patients and helping them with their concerns. With our ability to provide various levels of sedation, every patient can have their needs met in a comfortable and safe way.

Dr. Giannakopoulos: I enjoy teaching residents. I feel that I have a great mix of teaching and treating patients. I could do this in private practice, but I wouldn’t be able to do the teaching and I believe it’s important to advance the field.

Dr. Wang: My favorite part of working at PDFP is seeing patients get relief from pain when teeth need to be extracted, and the restoration of their function and smile with dental implants. Every day is different, from teaching dental students at Penn Dental school, to performing more complex surgical procedures and teaching residents at the hospitals of Penn Health System.

One of my most enjoyable days of the week is the day I work at PDFP where I can perform more basic oral surgery procedures such as teeth extractions, wisdom teeth removal, and dental implant placement for people who are in need.

Dr. Carrasco: My favorite part is working with patients and seeing their outcomes. For example, I might have a patient with a bite that doesn’t function well, or an appearance that they don’t feel comfortable with. When I can deliver that functionality and see the smile on their face and the way they feel about themselves — it’s the most gratifying part of my work.

5. What makes Penn Dental unique?

Dr. Ford: At PDFP, the nicest thing is the collaborative approach to patient care. With oral and maxillofacial surgeons, restorative dentists, prosthodontists, endodontists, periodontists, pedodontists, orthodontists and oral medicine all under one roof, we are able to provide the highest level of care.

Dr. Giannakopoulos: It’s a multi-specialty practice, which makes it unique. There are other multi-specialty practices out there, but not to the same extent. It’s great to be able to collaborate with specialists and general dentists on both patient care and research.

Dr. Wang: The facilities are excellent, but what makes Penn Dental unique is that we have every type of dentist and dental specialty under one roof: from general dentistry to orthodontics, periodontics, and endodontics. We have the ability to directly communicate with each other to take care of mutual patients, which makes for a better patient experience. It’s not uncommon for another dentist to approach me and ask me to see a patient, and oftentimes I am able to get them into my schedule the same day.

Dr. Carrasco: What’s wonderful about Penn Dental Family Practice is that we have experts within every dental specialty in one group. So we’re always communicating within the same chart, going to conferences together, and collaborating as colleagues. This environment allows us to use the expertise of all the different practitioners to give patients the best outcomes.

6. If someone was struggling with whether to commit to oral maxillofacial surgery, what would you tell them?

Dr. Ford: All the oral maxillofacial surgeons at PDFP are both dentists and physicians. That unique background gives us the ability to approach patient concerns from both a medical and a dental perspective. I also think that our extensive training with anesthesia allows us to ensure that all procedures are comfortable and pain-free.

Dr. Giannakopoulos: We have highly-qualified specialists that practice at Penn Dental and that we are adaptable to meet each patient’s needs, from simple to advanced treatments. We have the latest technological advancements to facilitate their care. Our priority is to deliver individualized care because we recognize that everyone has different needs.

Dr. Wang: Especially for oral surgery, the thought of having teeth extracted, having dental implants placed, or having jaw surgery can be scary for patients. However, we do all that we can to make people comfortable and address their concerns. We have tools such as local anesthesia, nitrous oxide, and IV sedation to provide a comfortable patient experience. Our goal is to ease their fears, and provide excellent care. All of the oral surgeons at PDFP have gone through extensive dental and medical training, and are experts in the field.

Dr. Carrasco: We try to give patients the best information we have so that they can make an informed decision. We recognize that these procedures aren’t as straightforward as most dental work, so I really encourage patients to come and ask questions until they feel comfortable with the process.

7. What is something fun about you that your patients might not know?

Dr. Ford: My patients probably don’t know that I was the captain of my college lacrosse team and still play in lacrosse tournaments. Also, outside of work, I spend most of my time trying to keep up with my young daughter.

Dr. Giannakopoulos: As a woman oral surgeon, I am among only five percent in the country that practice oral surgery. The field is dominated by men — 95% — and my female chair and I are the only women program directors in the country. I really love what I do.

Dr. Wang: I’m from Texas and growing up there, you’re basically born to love football. Though it’s not popular around these parts, I’m a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. My friends and colleagues here in Philly frequently give me a hard time about it, but it’s all in good fun.

Dr. Carrasco: I’m an avid sportsman, so I enjoy doing things like playing tennis, swimming, and running around with my kids. And I love traveling. In the last year, I’ve taken trips to Italy, St. Petersburg, Helsinski, Copenhagen, Stockholm, which were great memories.

8. What final advice or words of wisdom would you like to offer readers?

Dr. Ford: There is an advantage to getting care completed at an academic institution, where multiple specialists can evaluate patients and treat them comprehensively. We can provide the full range of care, rather than doing it “patchwork.”

Dr. Giannakopoulos: With TMJ, patients may become very frustrated looking for treatment. After all, there are only 50 doctors recognized by the TMJ Society, which involves an extensive membership process. These patients often get their complaints dismissed as psychosocial factors. What I would tell them is to not give up on treating their disease because it is real. Getting help early can prevent them from needing surgical treatment down the line.

Dr. Wang: I would say, brush your teeth and floss every day. See your dentist and dental hygienist for regular cleanings, and hopefully you won’t need an oral surgeon very often. As Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” However, if you do need our expertise, we are happy to help.

Dr. Carrasco: When you’re with your doctor, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be sure that you feel comfortable with the process as it’s going forward. And, if necessary, you should stop the process until you feel comfortable with it, because your health is important. As practitioners, our job is to educate you and help you feel at ease with the treatment.

Ready to meet a Penn oral surgeon near you? Schedule with our oral surgery department at 215-898-7337 to meet with one of these experts!