Arlington dentist Dr. Robert Morabito knows the meaning of the phrase "labor of love." In a time when fewer and fewer people enjoy their respective professions, he truly loves being a dentist.
To give back to the community in which he works, Morabito engaged in the Northern Virginia Dental Society's annual Give Kids A Smile day last week, in which local dentists give free care to uninsured children.
His office, along with several anesthesiologists on loan from Horizon Anesthesia, provided $24,000 worth of free care to 4- and 5-year-old children in a fun, pirate-themed atmosphere.
Arlington Connection: How many years have you lived or worked in Arlington?
Dr. Robert Morabito: My father was a dentist in Arlington for 25 years. Although I don’t live in Arlington now, I was raised there. My office is directly on the Arlington/Falls Church border. I practiced dentistry in Arlington for three years and then moved my office to the Cavalier Club apartment building on Wilson Boulevard. These patients for [Give Kids A Smile] day were referred to us from Arlington County in conjunction with the Northern Virginia Dental Association.
AC: Are you married? Do you have any children? Do you have any pets?
DRM: I am married to my high school sweetheart — Sue Ann whom I call "My Sunshine." I have four children: Peter who is16, Nicole who is 15, David who is 13 and Ashley who is 11. We have two cats — Dasher and Smores.
AC: What was your first job?
DRM: When I lived in Chain Bridge Forest in Arlington my first job was at the Arlington Recreation Center off of Old Glebe Road assisting in the art program and at the snack bar when I was 10 and 11. I also had jobs walking dogs and mowing lawns. When I was 14, I worked as a dental assistant for my father's dental practice at 200 N. Glebe Rd. I also worked at Washington Golf and Country Club picking up golf balls at the driving range. In those days, we had to pick up the balls by hand, not by cart. I remember sometimes my dad would come help me after getting off work. I also used to deliver the Washington Post for several years. In my teenage years I moved on to landscaping and lawn work. These jobs helped me to pay for college.
AC: If you were to take a road trip anywhere right now, where would you go and why?
DRM: I am taking a road trip this summer to Lake Lanier in Georgia. We are going to rent a houseboat for a week with our four children and their friends and explore the largest lake in Georgia. Our love of the scenery on the water is what really draws us to this place. We want to spend as much time with the children as possible and this is something that all age groups love. We plan to water-ski, kayak, hike, and play golf. We love family adventures and seeing the excitement on our children’s faces. We love the camaraderie, playing games together, cards, and reading books.
AC: Why did you go into dentistry?
DRM: I was a builder-developer for a number of years. In the late 80s, I saw the entire real estate market collapse. Many of my friends who were also builders went bankrupt and got divorced. I didn't want that for myself or my family. Being in real estate was frustrating in many ways because I pushed a lot of paperwork, dealt with too much politics, and didn't get a chance to realize my dreams to go into production. On a weekend visit back to UVA where my wife graduated, we went with another couple — Dr. Scott Berman, an orthodontist in Falls Church and his wife Rachel. On the two hour ride home, Scott and I were discussing a career change. I mentioned all things I enjoyed doing, how I wanted to work more with people, how I enjoyed working with my hands, the fact that I enjoyed art, my desire to do something for others. He said "Have you ever thought of being a dentist?" It hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew in that very moment that's what I wanted to do. My father was a dentist and I always admired him. Everywhere we went somebody always recognized him and came up to say what a great guy he was. I would so often hear about how many people he helped in his career. I knew many of his patients having worked there for years. It was like a big extended family. I got to hear stories about his patients every night at dinner. This is what I wanted and I was going to go for it. It was an incredible ambition to go back to school especially with 3 children and my wife being pregnant. The very next day after this trip, I got a call from my wife at work who said she got me enrolled to take my pre-med classes at Univ. of Maryland and that they began in two months. "Give notice to your job and let's go tell our parents," Sue Ann said. Everyone was stunned and shocked and unsure. How could we afford this? Wasn't I too old? Did I have the grades to get in? Where would we live? After the initial shock everyone was very supportive all through the six years of schooling.
AC: What is the best part about being a dentist? What is the worst part?
DRM: The best part is of being a dentist is being a part of my patients’ lives. We are truly like a big family. We get to know one another. We talk about our children, sports, our careers, trips. As a dentist, I view each and everyday as though we are having a party and our friends and family are coming to celebrate with us. I feel so privileged to have so many people come to see me, who trust me with their teeth, their pain, their fears, their intimate medical problems and ultimately their smile. Our motto is: "Your smile is our goal." I genuinely mean that. I do everything I can for my patients to make them comfortable while they are here. The fact that I don't advertise and that my practice continues to grow is a confirmation of our success. In fact, our office has been voted among the "Top Dentists" by Northern Virginia magazine in 2003, 2004, 2005, as well as Top Dentists by the Consumer Research Council of America in 2003, 2005, 2006.
AC: What gave you the idea to hold the "Give Kids a Smile Day" event?
DRM: The program that I sponsored is an extension of the Give Kids a Smile Day which is a nationally sponsored by the American Dental Association. During this day, local dental associations throughout the nation will welcome children who are below poverty level and under the age of 12 to receive free dental screenings, cleanings, fillings, and extractions. The last two years, my staff and I participated at the Springfield campus of the NOVA Community College. I was astounded at the lack of care and the total destruction of these children’s smiles at such a young age. I was frustrated that we simply did not have enough time during this day to take care of these children’s needs. We did a lot of exams, x-rays, and cleanings, but many of these children needed much more extensive treatment. My staff and I discussed the problem and we agreed to open our doors to complete the treatment on as many patients as we could in a day. This year was especially challenging as 170 of the children who came through the program were between 4 - 5 years old. Trying to treat these children without some help would be near impossible. I contacted Horizon Anesthesia who volunteered to send not just one, but two anesthesiologists. They are board certified anesthesiologists who joined forces with us to put the children to sleep and perform all of the necessary treatment at one time. Offering treatment in this manner was truly miraculous. We treated 10 children, performed seven sedations, 63 fillings, 12 extractions, 10 exams and cleanings all valued at more than $24,000.
AC: What is your most memorable moment as a dentist?
DRM: My most memorable moment in dentistry is our staff trip to help the Katrina victims in New Orleans last February. My entire staff volunteered to attend the Mission of Mercy project. This week long event was held at the Audubon Zoo outdoors under tent roofs. It was the largest one-day medical/dental mission in the United States ever. During this week, we treated more than 18,000 patients. It was incredibly cold — 40, rainy and windy. We arrived to work everyday at 6 a.m. where we were greeted with a line of 300-400 people who had been in line since 2 or 3 a.m. We worked 12-hour shifts often times with just a flashlight. I have never been thanked, hugged or kissed so much in my life. Repeatedly we heard again and again how this was the best thing to happen to these people since the Hurricane. Our staffs, as well as everyone who volunteered beamed with pride knowing we truly made a difference in these peoples lives.