For a Manalapan Prosthodontist, changing lives is a daily occurrence
by JENNIFER VIKSE • Photos By Robert Nuzzie
When James Courey was a child, he didn’t dread going to the dentist. In fact, he looked forward to it.
“I really liked my childhood dentist,” explained Dr. Courey, a prosthodontist at Specialized Dentistry of New Jersey in Manalapan. “He was a cool doctor back then. He didn’t wear a white lab coat; he could relate to you as a person. He was friendly, helpful.”
Based on that experience, a young Courey selected his career path. “I thought this was something I could get into.” And get into it he did. He’s now been practicing since 1988.
After four years at the University of Iowa dental school, he spent another four years getting extensive prosthodontic training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein University in New York. Courey, who’s a surgical prosthodontist, also completed a four-year implant surgery fellowship at the New York University College of Dentistry’s department of Periodontology and Implantology.
He also interned in his former dentist’s office. “He was absolutely a mentor to me,” Courey reflected. “What I took away from him was that he was very cosmetically focused—he wanted to see the beauty in everyone.”
Courey stressed that a cookie-cutter approach doesn’t work in his specialty, a lesson he learned from that first dentist. “One size does not fit all,” he said. “All teeth are not the same, the smiles aren’t the same. He looked at the face, then at the smile, and knew how to blend them together. I thank him for that.”
Courey’s training and expertise gives him a special understanding of the dynamics of a smile, the preservation of a healthy mouth, and the creation of tooth replacements.
Individual treatment plans and a team approach set the practice apart. As an expert in restoring and replacing teeth using implants, crowns, bridges, veneers, and dentures, he receives referrals from dentists all over the Northeast. (Courey has been named “Top Prosthodontist” in a survey published by New Jersey Monthly.) His cases include everything from dental neglect to damage from car accidents, from teeth destroyed by eating disorders to congenitally missing teeth—all of which require cosmetic intervention in the form of implants.
“People’s perception of their smiles is so inherent as to who they are,” observed Courey. The situation might be, he explained, a woman who neglected her own dental needs to attend to her family’s, or a patient whose natural teeth simply didn’t form correctly.
“Almost on a daily basis, we are able to impact people who come in with these unique needs,” said Courey, who’s also a postgraduate instructor of implant and restorative dentistry at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.
He credits advances in technology with his increased ability to improve both cosmetics and function for patients. Technological developments, he said, have expanded treatment options.
“Technology is pushing the profession,” noted Courey, who explained that digital X-rays, impressioning, and 3-D scans have resulted in markedly better outcomes. “There are many resources, tools, and technologies available to dental professionals today. Knowing how and when to utilize them is what distinguishes a good dentist from a great one.” (Courey’s peers have voted him one of the top dentists in New Jersey for more than a decade, and he has also served on the Top Dentist Advisory Board, which consists of only the state’s top 15 dentists, since its inception in 2011.)
Courey describes himself as the general contractor, the quarterback, who assembles the right team of specialists based on the complexities of a patient’s case.
“I have multiple tools in my toolbox. I don’t use just one material or one laboratory for procedures,” he said. “It’s all individualized treatment.”
The traumatic cases are often emotional, but the results can be life changing. “When you see a patient’s personality transform from shy to confident and photogenic, it brings us alive as a team,” he said. “I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to be trained by the most amazing people and leaders. I’ve had the privilege of teaching at Columbia at the postgraduate level. It’s given me the passion to pay it forward. Showing up to work every day is not like a job; it’s very satisfying to be able to help people in that capacity.”
In addition to the more traumatic cases, Courey said that over the course of this year, patients are demanding more youthful smiles from the natural teeth they have cared for and retained into older age.
“People are keeping their teeth longer,” explained Courey. “They learned those lessons—the flossing…fluoride.”
He recently treated an 80-year-old woman with brightening agents for a more youthful look. “It wasn’t a large outlay of cash for her, and she achieved that more youthful look,” he said. Most important, she couldn’t be happier.
Being able to return a younger appearance and fixing trauma and neglect to restore confidence to their patients is what leaves the doctor and his team coming back for more.
“That feeling is what recharges my batteries to do it again the next day for the next patient,” he said. “My feeling is one of euphoria every day; it makes me so happy that they’re that happy. When you serve somebody and get that kind of reward, you just want to do it again.”
Courey and his care team—including Dr. Joseph Zagami, a fellow prosthodontist—spend their days dealing with everything from the smallest filling to the transformation of an entire smile.
While complex cases can take several months or more than a year to be resolved, others require just a visit or two. At any rate, Courey said he sometimes teases that the practice should be called “Cheers”—a place where everybody knows your name. “It’s not a volume practice; it’s personal,” he explained. “That’s a very unique position to be in. I think patients appreciate that. They want to be seen and heard.”
“I grew up in a service-oriented family,” he shared. His mother was a nurse; his father, a hospital administrator. He has a brother who served in the military and another brother in the Peace Corps. “Nurturing is what gives us joy and gratification.”
Courey is also a husband to his wife, Lisa, and father to his son, Michael, 19. When he’s not working or riding one of his motorcycles, he’s spending time with his family. “Traveling is really fun, but we don’t get to do it too often,” he said, adding that he also enjoys the outdoors and the water. “My son loves to swim.”
Michael, who has autism, attends Princeton Child Development Institute, and the family has become passionate about supporting the school and the autism community.
“We’re philanthropic; we host events for the school. Helping those with autism is great for the community [at large],” noted Courey.
Sometimes his two worlds overlap. He welcomes autistic patients to the practice and is sensitive to their needs. “It’s very hard for them to express their needs,” he explained, “so being able to work with that community has been very rewarding.”
For Courey, there’s no dream of a private island or a chateau in the south of France. He’s living his dream.
“It’s just fulfilling to be able to do this for patients,” he said. “[This is] where I want to be, even if I won the lottery.”
Specialized Dentistry of New Jersey
224 Taylors Mills Road, Suite 110, Manalapan
732.410.7101 / buildinggreatsmiles.com