It was “a bit of exploring” while studying at the University of Pennsylvania that led Dr. Joseph F. Spera to oral and maxillofacial surgery—plus the example of outstanding mentors. A member of the faculty at Penn, Dr. Joseph W. Foote was also chief of the oral and maxillofacial surgery service at the Philadelphia Veterans Administration Medical Center, where Spera completed his fellowship. “He was not only great at what he did, but a great person—friendly, caring, compassionate, very interested in teaching and mentoring,” Spera says. “I was impressed with him overall.”
As for the specialty, Spera understood it encompassed a range of skills and procedures, from bone grafting to working with oncologists. His practice includes everything from removal of wisdom teeth to complex facial reconstructions, such as that of a young man diagnosed with a rare bone cancer who had lost almost all of his upper jaw. Working with a team of doctors and a prosthodontist, Spera was able to implant a device that restored the patient’s full function. The series of procedures took about six years. Spera handles four to six similarly complex cases a year.
“None of the cases we do are easy,” Spera says. “Even someone who wants a fixed prosthesis instead of dentures isn’t straightforward.”
To improve care, Spera was an early adopter of such technology as the cone-beam scanner. The machine creates a 3-D image of a patient’s mouth and skull, which can be turned into a model used to devise an efficient treatment plan. He’s also excited about advances in tissue engineering, which, for example, may allow the dentist to grow new bone instead of harvesting it from elsewhere in the patient’s body. That means one surgery instead of two, shorter recoveries and less expense.
Through it all, Spera keeps one thing in mind: treating patients the way he’d like to be treated. He credits his staff with his success.
“We’re a pretty strong team,” he says. “Without that, you can be the best in the world, but not able to deliver efficient care.”