By Robin Williams Adams
The Lakeland Ledger

There are run-of-the-mill dentists, skilled dentists and a few, like Lakeland's Dr. Alvin J. Fillastre Jr., in a class all their own.

Fillastre believes that a dentist's biggest challenge is in general dentistry, where those Who want to excel must master many aspects of dental practice. But from that broad arena, he has become known worldwide as an expert on restoring damaged teeth "Dentistry is a lot more complex when you get into major restorative cases than people realize," says Dr. Peter Dawson, a textbook writing dental specialist from St., Petersburg who knows Fillastre well "Cases other dentist don't want to tackle, he is willing to tackle."

Throughout a 46-year dental career, Flllastre has worked with leading dental experts to expand his own knowledge and share What he learns' says Dr. Keith Hilliard, president-elect of the Polk County Dental Association

"His biggest Contribution is lecturing to other dentists but he feels he has to do the work to talk about it "

Fillastre, at age 70, practices three days a week and devotes much of his remaining time to lecturing and to keeping abreast of changes. In recognition of his accomplishments, Fillastre will be honored by the Polk County Dental Association Monday at a cocktail buffet/roast being held during the American Dental Association meeting in Orlando.

In: an interview Friday, Fillastre explained the importance of working to be an excellent dentist instead of a "usual and customary " one. 

In layman's terms, he says, that's comparable to the difference between Bern's Steak House in Tampa and a McDonald's franchise.

Excellence requires being a dentist who cares about patients, is readily available, almost always sees them on time and is dedicated to providing the best care possible, says Fillastre, who is a third-generation dentist. 

"The spiritual rewards in dentistry come from within, the feelings you get from pride of accomplishment, Fiilastre says. "It's a philosophy: of practice available to those who are willing to pay the price." He urges young dentists to avoid the "accelerated practice" of shuttling back and forth among three different patients in three, different rooms.

Although a slower, more-thorough style may bring in less money at first, he says, word of mouth from patients will make the practice grow.

Fillastre didn't enter dentistry to become a hit on the dental feature circuit. His plan was to be the best general dentist possible.

After graduating from Northwestern University School of Dentistry in 1946, with grades high enough to get him into Omicron Kappa Upsilon, the Phi Beta Kappa of dentists, he completed military service and returned to Lakeland.

His father had moved to Lakeland in 1925, when Fillastre was 2 years old; to practice dentistry in the newly completed downtown Marble Arcade.

Even after going into practice with his fathers the lure of learning kept Fillastre traveling nationwide to hear experts in all aspects of dental technique. Dawson, who attended many post-graduate courses with Fillastre, Describes him as innovative and curious

"We could always count on Alvin to try new things. " In 1968, Fillastre says, colleagues invited him to demonstrate innovative dental approaches in talks to various groups. He has spoken around the United States and in Canada, France, England, Sweden and Japan, where he Became the first non-Japanese honorary member of The Congenial Dental Club of Tokyo. D He gives courses on how to do it and how to do it right," says Dr. Banks Simmons, a Lakeland dentist who: has attended several of Fillastre's talks.

"I've learned a lot from that man. Everybody has."

Among Fillastre's honors is appointment as a visiting faculty member of the L.D. Pankay institute for Advanced Dental Education in Miami, which teaches graduate dentists. :

But he finds it just as important to: treat and to educate patients. "I keep it simple," he says. "I try to keep communication two-way, not just lecture to the patient." 


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