If you’re in need of a great dentist, look no further. New Jersey Monthly’s annual Jersey Choice Top Dentists list has arrived.
To compile this year’s rundown of excellent practitioners, we polled dentists around New Jersey and asked them whom they would want to treat their own families. The results are the 565 dentists you see on the list, who represent ten specialties.
Below, we spotlight six of them—including Dr. Keith Appelbaum (who was inspired to switch careers from engineering to dentistry after 9/11 so that he could help people) and Dr. Baqir Jaffrey and Dr. Fizza A. Jaffrey (a husband and wife dentist team who work together).
Dr. Baqir Jaffrey
In practice: 17 Years
Dr. Fizza A. Jaffrey
ORAL AND MAXILLOFACIAL SURGERY
Offices: Turnersville, Mullica Hill, Cherry Hill
In practice: 8 years
After 12 years of marriage and six years practicing together, Dr. Baqir Jaffrey and Dr. Fizza A. Jaffrey know the drill.
The husband-wife dentistry team operates out of Baqir’s private practice, South Jersey Family Dental in Turnersville, where he is a general dentist. Fizza is a board-certified oral and maxillofacial surgeon who works there part-time. She also practices at H&O Dentistry in Mullica Hill and at TAP Dental in Cherry Hill when she’s not working alongside her spouse.
“He’s so supportive. He’s my number-one fan,” Fizza says of Baqir. “It’s nice to work with somebody that believes in you.”
Working in the same office and on the same patients is not only convenient for the Jaffreys, but also for the people they treat. When patients require surgery after meeting with Baqir for general work or consultation, he can refer them to an in-house specialist.
There are some challenges that come with working together—primarily arranging childcare for the couple’s 7- and 9-year-olds—but the Jaffreys emphasize boundaries, an open line of communication, setting expectations, and checks and balances. They also try their best to separate their personal and professional lives. “If there’s something going on at home, you can’t walk over to the office and bring it in with you,” Baqir says. “Everything that’s in the house has to stay in the house.”
It helps, Baqir adds, that he and Fizza have a “yin-and-yang relationship.” As they describe it, he is the more easygoing, laid-back one, while she has more of a type-A personality and can be particular about things in the office, such as keeping up with the industry’s latest technology. “He might call me bougie,” Fizza says, “but I like the good stuff.”
What’s important is that they have similar philosophies when it comes to treatment and taking care of their patients. Both value kindness, and neither is willing to sacrifice quality for convenience. That approach, along with what Fizza calls an “endearing” family feel, has kept patients smiling.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but I think we’re starting to come into our own,” Baqir says. “We’re starting to develop a good work/life balance.” —Gary Phillips
Dr. Toan K. Bui
In practice: 14 years
Dr. Toan K. Bui’s life began across the world from his current home in New Jersey.
Born in postwar Vietnam in the late 1970s, Dr. Bui spent the first few years of his life in a small town with his mother and four siblings after his father left for the United States by boat. It took his father multiple attempts to make it to the United States, with Thai pirates nearly derailing him.
While Dr. Bui’s father worked to get his U.S. citizenship, his mother raised the children and earned money by selling items from their garden. It took five years for the rest of the family to legally immigrate, and when they did, they settled in Dover.
“They are truly my heroes,” Dr. Bui says of his family, choking up. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them.”
Dr. Bui, who was valedictorian of his graduating class at Dover High School, came out of high school with a love of both science and art, which led him to the field of dentistry. It only took three years upon finishing dental school at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey to achieve his goal of opening his own practice in 2008.
His practice, Transcendental LLC in Clifton, offers a wide range of oral health services. Dr. Bui’s philosophy is to put patients first and go “above and beyond” (which is the definition of transcend), “whether a simple cleaning or full restorative case.” He says, “We listen to the patients, we are honest with them, and we don’t oversell.”
The practice has grown through word of mouth, which has proven successful, as Transcendental has just taken on a new associate and is moving to a larger facility in town. Dr. Bui says he is most moved by helping patients who are ashamed to smile in public because of their teeth.
“It is life changing for them,” he says. “A lot of them have been brought down to tears. For me, it’s just gratifying because I was able to be a part of that.” —Falyn Stempler
Purnima Rathi Hernandez
Office: Fair Lawn
In practice: 36 years
Dr. Purnima Rathi Hernandez’s journey to becoming a pediatric dentist who specializes in helping children with special needs has been a very personal one.
When her son was born with multiple disabilities, she stopped working as a dentist for five years to take care of him. He was born weighing only 1 pound and was later diagnosed with autism.
When she went back to work, she brought her experiences with her and became a health and wellness coach to better help her patients. She later went back to school to complete a master’s degree in psychology, specializing in behavioral analysis, as another way to provide better care.
“I have a very holistic approach to treating my patients,” says Dr. Hernandez, who lives in Glen Rock. “It’s not only teeth that we treat; as a dentist, we can underestimate the role that overall health plays. We’re sometimes looked at as tooth carpenters—but we’re not just fixing teeth. We have the potential to influence our patients’ health. It’s very significant and profound.”
At her practice, Bergen Pediatric Dentistry in Fair Lawn, Dr. Hernandez sees children from birth to 16 years old. Her patients come to her from all over New Jersey, as well as from the tristate area, Massachusetts and even Florida. About one-third of her patients are children who have disabilities, and many have a phobia of dentists.
Some of the children she sees couldn’t tolerate dentistry and, in the past, had to be held down at the dentist’s office or had similarly traumatic experiences. She helps them through a systematic desensitization protocol, which the parents collaborate on with her.
“I’m very passionate about helping people who have a difficult time in accepting dentistry, even simple procedures,” she says. “Managing fear and building trust and finding safety is what my practice specializes in. Transforming that fear into an acceptance of a lifetime of oral health is a very gratifying experience.” —Jacqueline Mroz
Dr. Laurene A. Wolf
In practice: 26 years
Dr. Laurene A. Wolf was a high school student when she realized how straight, healthy teeth can impact a person’s self-esteem—noticing how her friends would often feel self-conscious about their teeth and wouldn’t smile in photos. That’s when she decided to dedicate her life to helping people smile more.
Dr. Wolf opened her orthodontic practice in Hillsborough in 1998, which today uses top-of-the-line technology including 3-D X-rays, self-ligating braces and clear aligners like Invisalign. She says this is a particularly exciting time in orthodontic technology, as she can now more precisely find the best type of braces for each patient’s needs.
Beyond health care, one of Dr. Wolf’s priorities is creating a sense of community among both her staff and the practice’s patients. “It’s like a big family,” Dr. Wolf says of the staff. “I could say we truly love each other. Whenever somebody may have anything in their life that’s happening, everybody’s been so supportive of each other. Even with their job responsibilities, everybody tries to help.”
Employees bond by drawing amusing cartoons with inside jokes, for example. Patients and their families, meanwhile, can take advantage of the practice’s community events, such as farm-day activities and charity events.
Dr. Wolf says giving back to the community and developing connections with patients makes the work truly rewarding.
“We see [our patients] a lot of times when they’re young and still have baby teeth, and then we see them graduating from high school,” she says. “Getting to know them and getting to know the families in our town, I’ve been very lucky to be in a position to see people like that and to be embraced by the town. And that’s why it’s so important that we try to give back and…support our local charities, our local farms and our community.” —Thomas Neira
Dr. Keith Appelbaum
Offices: Randolph, Sparta
In practice: 11 years
On September 11, 2001, Keith Appelbaum was working as a civil engineer, installing a cell phone antenna on top of a building at Newark Airport, when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. He had a bird’s-eye view of the worst terrorist attack on American soil, and it was something he would never forget.
The experience changed him and made him want to give back more to his community.
So he quit his job and decided to go back to school to become a dentist. It took him six years: four years of dental school and a two-year residency in endodontics.
During that time, he and his wife, Meredyth, had their first child. It was a big sacrifice for both of them.
“My wife thought I was crazy. But she understood why I wanted to do it, and she helped me through dental school,” says Dr. Appelbaum, who lives in Sparta with his family. “I wanted to help more than I could as a civil engineer, so I turned to medicine. I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives.”
His pivot to dentistry was partly inspired by his father, Dr. Marc Appelbaum, who was a well-known prosthodontist in Morristown.
He made the change 13 years ago. He and his wife, a psychology professor at Montclair State University, now have three children.
Dr. Appelbaum has a thriving practice as an endodontist working with adults and children, with offices in Randolph and Sparta. An endodontist treats the inside of the tooth and performs procedures that include root canal and surgery to save the teeth.
Dr. Appelbaum says that patients who see him are often in tremendous pain, and he finds it extremely satisfying to help diagnose their problem and provide much of his care pain-free due to increasingly sophisticated dental techniques, such as the use of microscopes.
“I fell in love with dentistry and helping people,” he says. “I’m here for them when they need it.” —Jacqueline MrozClick here to leave a comment