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High-Tech Dentistry in a Historical Setting

"This place was once a main Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe railhead along the Old Chisholm Trail," notes Joe W. Potter, D.D.S. "It was the first organized community in Dallas County. Back then, Cedar Hill was a flourishing center for commercial activity and was positioned to be the county seat. But in 1856, a cyclone hit and wiped out pretty much the whole place." That little twist of fate changed the destiny of Cedar Hill, Texas, forever.

Today, Cedar Hill is relatively peaceful, although its historic storefronts could tell a Texas-sized tale if they could only talk. No matter: Dr. Potter is well-qualified to tell their story. The Potter family has roots in Cedar Hill that go almost as far back as the town itself. In the mid-1800s, when settlers were still troubled by prairie wildfires, cattle rustlers and the occasional Indian uprising, his great-grandfather set up shop in the apothecary on the corner. A generation later, his grandfather and grandmother opened the town's grocery.

Dr. Potter has become a familiar face in Cedar Hill. After graduating from Baylor Dental College in 1973, he joined a three-chair Cedar Hill dental practice located in the old bank building and worked part-time in Baylor's Crown and Bridge Department. The historic bank was once robbed by a member of Bonnie and Clyde's notorious gang. "The building had been renovated and used as office space, but the original bank vault was still there," he points out. He established his own practice in Cedar Hill in 1976.

Although his practice relocated to a new freestanding facility in 2002, Dr. Potter's appreciation for history and his family's role in the early days of Cedar Hill hasn't changed. Dr. Potter chose Brian Lamar Custom Homes to build his new office. The new building has a Hill Country look featuring Austin stone, and harmonizes beautifully with its Old Town setting in Cedar Hill's Historical Corridor. Inside, the soaring ceilings and sunlit space give the office an open, modern feel, while exposed wooden beams and natural stone carry the comfortable Hill Country style indoors. The walls are decorated with relics of the Potter family's past, including antiques, phone books with three-digit phone numbers, an actual teller window salvaged from the old bank building and fascinating old photographs that offer a unique glimpse into the lives of early residents.

Norman Patten & Associates served as architects on the project, and patterson Dental designed the office interior. Dr. Potter's wife, Sylvia, who is a Realtor with the Reiswig Group (www.DFWProperties.net) , worked closely with designers to help select the colors and furnishings for the new office. The building project was recently honored with the Cedar Hill Beautification Committee's Award for Commercial Property of the Month.

Dr. Potter points out another interesting fact about the historic site -- Cedar Hill was named for its Eastern red cedars and its location at the highest point between the Red River and the Gulf Coast. Settlers who migrated south from the Midwest favored the site because its elevation kept it consistently a few degrees cooler than other parts of North Texas. "This is the highest dental office in Dallas County,"he notes. "We are at an elevation of 750 feet and, on a clear day, we can see downtown Dallas from here."

Even the most passionate history buffs would probably name dentistry as one profession that has been greatly improved by time and technology. In this respect, Dr. Potter is thrilled to leave the bygone days behind and offer his patients the benefits of those advances. Although from the outside Dr. Potter's new office looks right at home in a historic setting, the antiques and memorabilia that decorate the interior share a space with an arsenal of the most advanced dental equipment and techniques. "I wanted the building to reflect the rich history of the area, but I also wanted it to include the most modern dental equipment available," Dr. Potter points out. "My decision to invest in a new building was an expression of my ongoing enthusiasm for my profession. Practicing dentistry is the fulfillment of a dream that began when I was 12, and I have always found it very rewarding. I am excited by the potential of technological advances, and I want my patients to have access to the best dental techniques and procedures."

Dr. Potter uses all-digital radiography, which captures radiographic images faster and with less radiation exposure than traditional systems. He also uses intraoral cameras that let patients see close-up what he sees and foster helpful dialogue about treatment. Drill-less air abrasion technology allows him to treat areas of decay and chipped teeth microscopically, and the sophisticated Diagnodent laser allows him to scan teeth for decay in its earliest stages. His patients also love the results they see after treatment with the latest smile-dazzling Zoom whitening methods.

The level of respect and trust that Dr. Potter's patients feel has led them to call upon him in some extraordinary situations. One long-time patient, who happened to be the curator of mammals at the Dallas Zoo, shared a love for animals with Dr. Potter. When the Zoo needed a dentist to take a look at their five magnificent orangutans, the curator thought of Dr. Potter. "I got a call asking if I would take a look at the orangutans," Dr. Potter remembers. "They are awesome, magnificent animals, and I was honored to be asked to care for them. Orangutans have tremendously strong arms, built to swing through the trees in the rain forest. They actually measure nine feet from fingertip to fingertip. Unfortunately, their diet in captivity is not quite the same as it is in the wild, and the old male needed nine extractions."

Another time, Dr. Potter was asked to clean the teeth of a tiger at the Zoo. He recalls, "These big cats weigh upwards of 400 pounds. It was an incredible experience to have my hands in his mouth. Since tigers in the wild keep their teeth clean by gnawing the flesh from the bones of their prey, and these tigers are fed only prepared cuts of meat, the tiger was in dire need of a thorough cleaning. It took a while and as the cat began to awaken, he growled a little. I finished quickly, and didn't realize until I stood up that the gentleman who had been standing behind me throughout the procedure was armed with a rifle, just in case."

With a little imagination and some inspiration from the photos on the wall in Dr. Potter's office, one can almost see the bustling little town of Cedar Hill a century ago, filled with thirsty cowboys and settlers riding in for supplies. Although the destiny of the town has taken some twists and turns, there is still a member of the Potter family there, waiting with a friendly word and taking the best possible care of each and every client that walks through the door. Great-Grandpa Potter probably wouldn't be at all surprised. (By Tina Cauller)