Dr. Douglas Watanabe admits he doesn’t act his age. From running a successful Town & Country dental practice to flying World War II biplanes, the almost septuagenarian leads a busy life with no plans to slow down any time soon.
“I love what I do, and right now I think I’m at the top of my game,” says Watanabe, who bought Ballas Dental Care in 1971, shortly after graduating from dental school at Washington University. And after 40 years of practice, he understands the keys to success. “In any service business like this, it’s all about building trust and having good communication. We strive for excellence in our treatment of—and relationships with—our patients. That’s a good combination.”
Watanabe grew up on the family farm in northern Utah, where his parents helped to instill that work ethic. “It was a great experience to work alongside my parents in the field and see the sacrifice they made for their kids to get an education and better themselves,” he remembers.
Enjoying science and working with his hands, Watanabe ventured to St. Louis for school and never left. Ballas Dental Care was one of the first practices in the area to use oral sedation for its more fearful patients, and Watanabe, along with fellow dentists, Dr. William Haines and Dr. Jan Olivier, has embraced the continual emergence of new dental technology.
Through the years, Watanabe also has had the opportunity to build relationships with three and four generations of patients, witnessing the life cycles of families. “I appreciate watching the transition of time and being a part of the lives of people,” he says.
However, owning a successful practice is not enough of a challenge for the dentist. He has flown antique biplanes for four decades, enjoying the “nostalgia of older airplanes, as well as the camaraderie of people who are involved in it.” Donating rides to local charities and schools allows Watanabe a chance to “share the experience and allow people to do something they normally wouldn’t be able to.”
Watanabe participates in formation flying as part of a national group, and he and his fellow pilots perform flyovers for various ceremonies. It is a pastime that is not for the faint of heart. “It takes extreme discipline and trust between people to fly five feet apart from each other,” he explains. “I like the challenge.”
As if formation flying two to three times a week wasn’t enough for the 69-year-old, Watanabe also occasionally participates in his lifelong hobby of skiing. While he has no plans to retire, he has cut down his workload to three-and-ahalf days a week. In the coming years, Watanabe may spend less time at the practice and more time with his wife of 34 years, Carol, and their three children, Stephanie, Laura and Ryan. However, he won’t stop the busy lifestyle that has kept him feeling young.
“I’ll always have great feelings about the experiences I’ve had,” Watanabe says. “But I think I’ll always keep working. It’s a good way to spend my time.”