When I was a kid, going to the orthodontist was tantamount to finding out I had poison ivy. I hated going. As one of four children in my family, I remember feeling annoyed how both the orthodontist and his staff always looked at me quizzically as they asked, “Which one are you again?”
My nine year old daughter, on the other hand, has had the exact opposite feelings about going to the orthodontist thanks to Dr. Joseph Mullins at Mullins Orthodontics. When she finds out that she has an orthodontist appointment, she makes me giggle because she’ll exclaim, “Yes!” as she enthusiastically does a truck driver’s fist pump. Seriously? Who ever heard of a kid actually being excited to go to the orthodontist?
What’s the reason behind our drastically different orthodontic experiences? The answer is simple. Dr. Mullins. He has created an orthodontic practice that is warm, friendly, and fun; a practice that is just like him.
Walking into his orthodontist office at 120 C Avenue is reminiscent of Norm walking into the bar on the eighties sitcom Cheers. As soon as patients (and their parents) approach the front desk, they are greeted with an enthusiastic smile, and welcomed by Alya Carrillo, who handles everything at the front desk. You could be having a bad day, but Carrillo’s greeting is always the perfect antidote.
From a parent’s perspective I appreciate that my daughter’s appointments always start on time, and when each appointment is over, Dr. Mullins always comes out personally to give me an update on the progress of her orthodontic work. As I schedule her next appointment, my daughter eagerly searches through the treasure chest for the perfect prize as Dr. Mullins gives her positive reinforcement, telling her to keep up the good work. We leave the office with smiles on our faces, which is nothing like what I experienced as a child.
So who is Dr. Mullins? Besides being an orthodontist, Dr. Mullins is a philanthropist who gives back to the City of Coronado, not only donating money to numerous organizations and fundraisers throughout the community, but also contributing his time by volunteering with a number of civic groups.
Joe Mullins was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and then raised in Moundsville, West Virginia by his father, a civil engineer, and his mother, who was a stay-at-home mom. The oldest of three, Mullins is proud of his brother, who is an industrial engineer, and his sister, who is the principal of an elementary school back in West Virginia.
Reflecting on his childhood, Mullins says, “We had a hard work ethic in my family as do many families in rural West Virginia. They were great parents. We struggled like any other family in the seventies and early eighties, but they always put us first, which was very important.”
How did a boy raised in West Virginia become interested in studying orthodontia? Mullins credits his own childhood orthodontist, Dr. James Caveney, with influencing him to become an orthodontist. “I was always impressed with him. I had some crazy teeth when I got my braces on in sixth grade. He changed my life with giving me a great smile,” Mullins says of Dr. Caveney. Mullins says he “realized that he wanted to be in the medical or dental field” someday, and always kept thinking back to his own orthodontist in terms of what he could do in the medical field that he would enjoy. He adds, “I think I’m the only patient of my orthodontist who became an orthodontist, and he was very proud of that.”
Mullins attended West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia, and as he talks about his college studies, he can’t resist chanting, “Let’s go, Mountaineers!” It is evident that you can take the man out of West Virginia, but you can’t take the West Virginia out of the man. He earned an undergraduate degree in biology, and then went straight into dental school at WVU for another four years.
During his second year of dental school Navy recruiters were visiting the campus, and a week later Mullins found himself raising his right hand as he joined the Navy. The Navy gave him a scholarship to help pay for his last two years of dental school.
While in dental school, young Joe Mullins met his future wife Condra Dennys, a New Jersey native who was studying in the dental hygiene program. The couple married in 1998, shortly after they graduated from their respective programs, and then Mullins started his Navy career.
The newly married couple left West Virginia, and were stationed in San Diego for four years. He did his residency at Navy Medical Center San Diego for the first year, and then spent three years as the dental officer onboard the USS DULUTH. Condra was able to contract with the Navy as a dental hygienist, and worked at the Branch Dental Clinic NAS North Island throughout all four years. “Condra actually got the Navy experience as well,” he says.
When asked what he liked best about being in the Navy, he comments, “I liked everything about being in the Navy. I enjoyed the camaraderie. I always wanted to serve my country ever since I was a kid, but I also wanted to go to college so I never knew how I was going to serve my country. Thanks to those Navy recruiters sitting in the front of the dental school, I thought, ‘I can do this.’ I think my favorite part about being in the Navy was just being able to serve my country.”
When asked what the most challenging aspect of his time in the Navy was, Mullins, who deployed for six months while serving onboard the USS DULUTH, answers, “Being away from my family. I didn’t have any kids at the time until the last six months, but being on duty and being underway on a ship when I had to be away from my wife was probably the most challenging thing,” but then adds, “but it was also a rewarding experience.” Many of Mullins’ current patients come from military families, and it is evident that he relates to what they are experiencing, both good and bad.
Toward the end of his tour he applied to orthodontics, and was accepted at WVU for another three years of schooling.
Mullins is proud of the fact that he completed all of his studies from undergraduate school to dental school to orthodontic school at WVU. “Of course, I’m a bit biased, but I really believe that one of the best orthodontic programs in the country is at West Virginia. I’m very blessed for a great clinical experience in my residency,” he remarks.
Once orthodontic school was completed, Joe and Condra Mullins, who had fallen in love with Coronado during the time that he was stationed in San Diego, decided to move back to the Crown City, where they have not only remained, but have become an important part of the community. He began his practice here in 2007.
Why did the couple choose Coronado? Even before they had ever moved to California before Mullins’ Navy tour, Mullins remembers meeting someone at a conference back in West Virginia who, when he found out Mullins was about to be stationed in San Diego, advised him, “You must live in Coronado.” Mullins, who knew nothing about San Diego, admits to being “terrified of moving to a big city” because he was from rural West Virginia. When he drove out here, the first sign that he recognized on the 5 was the sign for Coronado, so he took that exit.
When they returned to California after orthodontic school with their two sons, Mullins’ time in the Navy was already over, but they chose to return to Coronado because, according to Mullins, it’s a “beautiful place with great people, great military population, and great schools.” He says the quality of schools in Coronado was the main reason they moved to Coronado, knowing they wanted a top-notch education for their children.
Today their fourteen year old son Cole, who is an eighth grader, and their twelve year old son Landon, who is a sixth grader, are thriving at Coronado Middle School, and Mullins is confident that he and Condra made the best choice of where to call home. He says that “the people, the community atmosphere, the weather, and accessibility for both the kids and also for ourselves” is the reason “that Coronado was it when we moved back to San Diego.” He adds, “What’s not to like about Coronado?”
Sure it’s ideal to live in a beautiful place like Coronado, but what makes Mullins want to give back to the community as much as he does? If you’ve attended any events at the schools here or attended events within the community, chances are you’ve seen that one of the sponsors of the event was Mullins Orthodontics. “My wife and I always knew we wanted to give back to our community,” he humbly remarks. “Not only do I sponsor a lot of events for the community, but my wife chairs a lot of the events for the community and for the schools. That’s just our way to give back. I do have a successful business so it’s just my way to give back. I appreciate my customers, patients, and clients. We have a great school system, and with the state budget cuts and things like that, I think that it’s important to continue to have a good school system.”
Mullins is a supporter of the Islander Sports Foundation, Coronado SAFE, and many other organizations that “help foster our children.” He explains, “Not only do I give back to the schools, but I try to help other organizations such as sports and things like that.”
Although Mullins himself was never a Boy Scout back in West Virginia, both of his sons joined Cub Scouts here in Coronado, which meant that Mullins became active in the Boy Scouts of America organization himself. How did he become the Scoutmaster of Troop 801 this past December? “Both of my boys are in Boy Scouts, and I was asked by the previous Scoutmaster back in October of 2015 if I would be willing to become the next Scoutmaster.” He chuckles as he admits, “It’s a lot of work. It’s a part-time job. I’m in charge of about seventy boys in our troop, but it’s very rewarding. It’s another organization that can help foster young boys and men into becoming model citizens. It’s a good organization, a safe organization, and a good opportunity just to be good role models for our kids.”
In his spare time, when he’s not busy being an orthodontist, serving as Scoutmaster, or sponsoring a community or school event, Mullins is also a member of the Optimist Club of Coronado, is on a committee for the Coronado Schools Foundation, and serves on a committee for the school board for the Coronado Unified School District. “Just another way to give back,” he says, as I secretly wonder how he manages to do so much while never losing that beautiful smile that Dr. Caveney gave him back in West Virginia. “Not only financial support, but I want to be there in person to help as well,” he says.
Dr. Mullins spreads sunshine throughout the Island, and brings the same energy with him to work each day, making patients feel at ease. “I think that they’re pleasantly surprised that orthodontics isn’t as bad as they think it’s going to be once we get started,” he says. “An orthodontic office is a fun environment,” he says, seemingly unaware that his practice isn’t always the norm. “Yes, we’re doing some procedures that maybe aren’t always comfortable, but they’re tolerable. Kids and adults understand the before and the after. We show them what the problems are, and then we fix it. It’s a rewarding experience for everyone: the patients, my staff, and myself,” he says. “Making beautiful smiles, and seeing the results,” according to Dr. Mullins, is the most rewarding part of his profession.
“For some of my patients, this is the first big dental experience they’ve had,” Mullins elaborates. With utmost sincerity he adds, “My goal is to make them comfortable in the dental chair so even when they go to their dentist, maybe that helps them feel more comfortable at the regular dentist as well. I love my team. You have to hire the right positive staff, and you have to take care of your staff so you keep them around for a while. I pretty much have had the same staff since when I started.”
He continues, “One of the best things about orthodontics is if you schedule your day properly, you actually get to spend some time with your patients, and get to know them and know what’s going on in their lives, and it’s very interesting.” (Clearly my childhood orthodontist didn’t share that philosophy.) “It’s a small town, and I want to know what everyone’s doing, what things are making them happy, and what things they’re being successful at. It’s exciting for me! My younger patients kind of become my kids, and the adult patients become my friends. They’re my neighbors. There may be some other things in our lives so not only can I help them with orthodontics, but I can also help them with other things, or they can help me with other things. It’s about making connections, and it pays off. I don’t like to be overbooked. I like to be able to spend time with patients, and answer questions.”
Yes, Dr. Mullins enjoys spending time with his patients, but it is clear that his patients, along with the community of Coronado, reciprocate that feeling. Mullins’ favorite song to sing and play on his acoustic guitar is Take Me Home, Country Roads by the late, fellow West Virginia native John Denver. We’re lucky that the Mullins family thinks Coronado is “almost heaven” too.
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