THREE OAKS — Dr. Debra Z. Mannia, DDS, has been taking care of her patients (and their teeth) like they were family for four decades.
"I've been very blessed with this community. My patients are my family," she said.
Some have been with her for all 40 years.
Her fellow dentist in the Three Oaks Dentistry practice at 103 South Elm St. in Three Oaks is literally family — her son, Dr. Paul A. Mannia.
Both are graduates of the Indiana University School of Dentistry (located in Indianapolis).
"He graduated 30 years after I did — he's been a dentist for 10 years," Debra said.
She added that at Dr. Paul's graduation ceremony parents who were dentists had the opportunity to put the robe on the graduate.
"That was very nice," Mannia added.
She said her son is very easy to work with.
"He keeps me up on the newest trends and I help with the experience part," she said.
Mannia said her oldest, daughter, Kristen, is a dental hygienist (and her husband an orthodontist) in Mishawaka, while her younger daughter, Hillary, worked in dental assisting before switching to an administrative position at a medical facility.
"It's really not a job. My kids when they were little would say 'What are you going to do when you grow up mom?'"
Mannia said it's been a very rewarding career, and she plans to continue working in Three Oaks for the foreseeable future.
"I'm not seeing as many patients now because my son is here," she noted.
Mannia opened her practice in October of 1980.
She bought the office from Dr. Knight, who was not seeing a lot of patients at the time.
Mannia said it took a while to build up a clientele.
"Maybe one patient in the morning, one patient in the afternoon. I did everything, answered the phone."
After about three months she got help from the daughter of a patient, Linda Hischke, who was studying to be a dental assistant (she now lives in Colorado and still keeps in touch).
"Her family are still patients here," Mannia said, adding that she also was introduced to her first front-desk person by the Hischkes.
"I've bee blessed with fantastic, fantastic people who have worked with me," she said.
Over the years Mannia said she has repeatedly told her patients that teeth are an important part of their body.
"It's really a nice feeling to give somebody back their confidence if they have teeth that need to be worked on … It's very rewarding."
She said a major goal is to make visiting the dentist a positive experience for children, adding that there is a safe with "Tooth Fairy" treasures inside.
"We try to make it a fun environment to get your teeth fixed because it's part of your body and it's for your well-being," she said.
Mannia noted that the practice is accepting new patients.
For more information, log on to threeoaksdentistry.com or call (269) 756-5431.