Photos by Cameron Flaisch
It used to be a bottling factory, but now when you walk in, a contemporary and clean waiting area greets you almost as warmly as the staff. Along with cool art and office décor, you pass a miniature candy shop, a small movie theatre and an arcade, all on your way to the orthodontic chair.
Joseph Vargo at Vargo Orthodontics and his staff are in the business of manufacturing amazing smiles, not just in Floyd County, but all over the world. Dr. Vargo’s approach to his work, the quality of care his patients receive and his use of state-of-the-art technology have earned him a reputation as one of the most sought after practices in the area and beyond.
Dr. Vargo, who is originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, fostered a passion for education from a young age, and for a long time he wanted to be a teacher.
But when he was in second grade, he was involved in a serious bus accident that knocked out his teeth, causing him to need seven years of orthodontic treatment. Though his first love was in education and teaching, he decided he could incorporate that skillset within another career journey.
“I started talking to some different health professionals and decided orthodontics was my path. I wouldn’t have thought at the time that such a serious trauma and all those years in a chair would inspire me to do it, but then I started thinking, you know, how I liked the way this made me feel. I liked the way I felt when I was going to the orthodontist.”
After earning his doctorate in Dental Medicine in 1992 and his Master’s in Orthodontics in 1996, he worked in Atlanta as an orthodontist, sometimes traveling between eight different offices in the metro area. But having visited Rome at the suggestion of a friend, he knew this was the place where he wanted to start his own practice.
So, he opened his practice in Rome, originally on East Sixth Avenue, and began his local legacy of manufacturing incredible smiles.
Like all things in the medical world, the practice of orthodontics has improved with the passage of time and the development of new technologies. With so many different options available today, Dr. Vargo says each method is based on the patient’s needs and the desired end result.
“We really try to pair the technology with the patient,” he explains. “It can be anything from Invisalign Teen to traditional Invisalign. There are different types of braces, but to me, they’re part of the tools for the artistry. Engineering a fantastic smile and bite takes a lot of experience. We’ll use different auxiliaries to help us get to that end point.”
Headgears are a thing of the past, and so are dental impressions made from a dry-wall like, chalky glob. Digital scanning makes these methods obsolete, and since Vargo Orthodon-tics is the only practice in Rome that offers 3D imaging, the scans that used to take over an hour to process and complete are now ready in less than five minutes.
Dr. Vargo lets his patients chew gum, too (as long as it’s sugar free), and says it can actually aid in the treatment.
“We’re looking at ways to tell the patient what they can do instead of, ‘you can’t do this, can’t chew that, and you can’t eat this.’ As a teenager, you get told ‘no’ so much. Why not give kids and adults something positive, some great, motiva-tional way to help them get the result they want?”
But speaking of teens and adults, Dr. Vargo emphasizes that the circa 1970 philosophy of taking your child to the orthodontist when they are a teen with permanent teeth is just as old fashioned as metal headgear strapped to your face. The American Association of Orthodontics recommends an initial screening at age 7, be-cause that’s when kids hit their first craniofacial growth spurt.
“That’s been proven for over 50 years for boys and girls, across the board,” he says, adding that the radiograph and exam of the 7-year-olds can help them forecast orthodontics treatment for the child. “We’re able to accomplish some pretty phenomenal foundational things that you can’t do with a teenager. There are some that come in who have really severe bites and we educate the parents as to what’s going on, and we come up with a customized plan.”
Dr. Vargo says his team continues to monitor the child’s progress and growth throughout the years, and it will make their time in braces less taxing.
“It’s unfortunate, for the ones we don’t see until their teenage years, that we’re having to introduce them to the oral surgeons and they have to go through expensive and uncomfortable procedures we could have avoided.”
And Dr. Vargo’s method of getting kids in early seems to be quite effective.
“We’ve been really successful with tracking our impaction rate,” he says. “Impaction is when a tooth gets stuck, and probably the average is 30 percent impactions for most practices, but we’re in the five percent range. We’ve tracked it for 20 years. When we perform early treatment and we diagnose something early, the chance of impaction goes down drastically.”
The newer technologies used at his office are just a puzzle piece that makes up the bigger picture of the success of his patients. The other pieces that comprise the portrait are his patients themselves and his dedicated and knowledgeable staff. All of this combined achieves organic, word-of-mouth marketing, because he doesn’t do paid advertising.
“Our best advertisement is the referrals from patients,” he says. “We have patients who travel out of state and out of the country to see us. Our farthest patient right now is from Switzerland.”
“Our ladies here at the office are skilled,” he adds of his staff. “We have people who have been here for 16 years. The state requires a certain level of training, and we surpass that. It’s an office standard for us. We keep up with the technology changes. The first time we learned how to scan, we traveled to Dallas, Texas. It’s a big investment, but what it ultimately comes down to is the level of patient care is second to none.”
Because of the positivity that came from his own years of visiting the orthodontist for treatments, Dr. Vargo’s goal is to make trips to his office a very cool experience. For seven years, his office was located on East Sixth Street. But now he’s located in the Double Cola bottling plant on Glenn Milner and East Second Avenue. Vargo renovated it, but kept the old school feel to honor the building’s history.
“When I went to the orthodontist growing up… the excitement at that time was Highlights Magazine and a fish tank,” he recalls, adding his office design was inspired by wanting to cater to both parents and kids. Hence, the calm, cool waiting area for mom and dad and the theater, arcade and candy bar for kids.
“The essence of what we have here is really to make people feel welcome. Building relation-ships starts from the moment someone calls our office and the moment they walk in the door. It’s important for them to feel welcome.”
Dr. Vargo is also in the business of giving back to the community that he feels has em-braced him so completely. He and his staff are always looking for ways to contribute to the well-being of Rome and Floyd County.
“We’re the practice you’ll see at an event, rolling up our sleeves helping,” he says. “We would rather be the workers behind the scenes instead of carrying a banner saying, ‘Look at us!’
For me it’s important philanthropically to give back to the community.”
He wants his patients to feel the joy of giving back as well. Vargo says he was inspired to come up with the Partners in Education Program when many Floyd County teachers lost their jobs a few years ago because of education cuts.
“I never would have thought in my lifetime that I would have seen teachers coming out of school not being able to get a job,” he says. “Because my heart is centered around education, any child that comes in and is a new patient, they can designate a $50 tithe to their school program of choice.”
To date, the Vargo Partners in Education Program is in nearly 30 area schools and the practice has donated more than $15,000.
“This is a way for us to help, but it’s also a vehicle for kids to be a part of giving back,” he says. “We just provided a vehicle for kids to be philanthropic. We have some who want to give it to their dance program, some who want to give it to their football program. Whatever inspires them works for us.”
Another cool feature that enhances both his patients’ educational and orthodontics experi-ences is the Vargo Valet service. This program was inspired by single or working parents with several kids who were stretched thin when it came to taking a child to their appointment.
With the Vargo Valet service, a Vargo staff member goes to the child’s school, picks them up and takes them to their office visit and then once the child is done, the staff member takes them back to school. The whole process lasts no longer than an hour and a half.
That way, the child doesn’t miss a whole or half day of school and parents don’t have to miss work. The child still gets the treatment they need, and Dr. Vargo then follows up with the parent via phone and email to catch them up on his findings from the appointment. So, the parent stays completely in the loop.
“Being a single parent myself, I know it’s hard to make ends meet, especially if you don’t have anyone else to rely on,” he says. “With our transportation program, kids get to their appointment, and they get their school excuse. A lot of educators and administrators have endorsed us and this program because it helps improve education. The less time a child is out of the classroom, the better they’re going to do.”
All of these facets – treatment based on qual-ity, use of cutting-edge technology, a genuine care for patients, a fun office experience and programs that enhance education – fit together to create the Vargo Orthodontics experience. Dr. Vargo’s goal is to manufacture the most incred-ible smile and bite for his patients, and he says that seeing patients hold their heads up high, smile and laugh with confidence is priceless.
“I love working with the kids and even adults, helping them to achieve their goals and feel better about themselves,” he says. “You can’t measure self-esteem but you can see a huge difference when you help a child or adult who maybe didn’t feel so great about themselves gain self-confidence. That’s where it starts.”
For more information or to make an appointment visit Vargo Orthodontics online at vargosmile.com or call the office at 706-290-0011.