More than Molar Mechanics

For Dr. James A. Duncan, dentistry was less like a choice and more like a destiny.

By: Kathleen Naderer
Photos by: William Russell

James A. Duncan, DDS, who prefers the less formal moniker “Dr. Jim,” has served as an essential member of the Coastal Bend dental community since 1996. Duncan Dental Studio, his practice in Portland, has a reputation of offering top-quality care not just for the patient’s teeth, but for the patient’s whole body. “Our philosophy is that we are more than just molar mechanics,” Dr. Jim said. “Medicine and dentistry are correlated.”

Studies have proven oral health is closely associated with overall health. For instance, gum disease has been medically linked to heart disease. This is why Dr. Jim encourages everyone to visit a dentist at least twice a year and practice healthy food and exercise habits.

As an active, award-winning member of the Corpus Christi Dental Study Club, Dr. Jim stays up-to-date on his field’s latest breakthroughs in both research and technology. He has received a mastership from the World Clinical Laser Institute, and incorporates lasers and other groundbreaking technology into his dental practice. “Where technology is going, I hang on tight – anything that can make life easier for the dentist and the patients, I’m game!” he exclaimed.

His office has embraced the use of all-tissue lasers for cavity prep, gum disease treatment and whitening, as well as the use of 3-D X-rays and cone beam imaging in order to provide the best possible treatment for patients. While he admits the cost and learning curve for the new technology can be challenging, he feels that these advances are part of what keeps him ahead of the curve.

Staying ahead is important for Dr. Jim, especially since he plans to continue growing his practice. He is currently looking to expand his current building’s physical structure and the services provided, as well as possibly bring in an associate.

Surprisingly, Dr. Jim had no interest in becoming a dentist when he was younger. “I did everything to not be a dentist,” he explained. “I actually set out to be other things when I graduated from high school.”

Despite having two parents in the dental field (his father is an oral surgeon, and his mother was a dental hygienist), Dr. Jim originally studied petroleum engineering in college. Within his first year of college, the oil industry went “belly up,” and he knew he would have to pursue a different path. He took a year off and worked at the Audie L. Murphy VA hospital in San Antonio as phlebotomist, which helped him realized that dentistry might be a good fit for him. “I guess I went from drilling wells to drilling teeth,” he joked.

His parents’ careers had little impact on him growing up. They had divorced when he was just 3 years old, and he was living in Germany with his mother and three sisters by the age of 7. Although his mom practiced occasionally, she did not go back to work fulltime until after he graduated from high school. Growing up on the other side of the world, he did not get to spend much time with his dad until he returned to Texas during junior high.

In spite of the challenges he faced as a child of divorce, Dr. Jim remained positive. “I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” he said with a smile. “You’ve got to make the most of your surroundings – of what life gives you.”

He earned his Bachelor of Science in Biology from Corpus Christi State University (now TAMUCC) in 1992, and fell in love with the Coastal Bend in the process. “I knew I’d be back here,” he recalled.

After earning his bachelor’s degree, Dr. Jim attended the University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time, and earned their Award of Excellence. He moved to Portland to practice dentistry, and began to form a plan for his own business in 2007.

Opening up his own practice was a challenge with which all new business owners are familiar. Dr. Jim had trouble getting the banks to even look over his business plan, and, after three years of trying, was ready to give up his dream.

Things quickly turned around when he finally received a phone call in December 2010 approving his business plan. But this came with a catch: Due to changing laws, Dr. Jim had only two weeks to complete all the paperwork and other legalities. He was able to scramble and meet his deadline, and Duncan Dental Studio opened its doors in 2011. “Ever since that moment, it’s been a blessing,” Dr. Jim said.

Of course, this blessing did not necessarily mean completely smooth sailing. In addition to the expensive overhead that comes with starting a new business in the medical field, Dr. Jim had to face his own health issues only two years into his practice.

A benign knee surgery became infected, causing him to miss six weeks of work. Fortunately for Dr. Jim, the tight-knit Coastal Bend dental community banded together to support him. His staff and even colleagues from other practices volunteered time and services so that Duncan Dental Studio could remain open.

“I’m extremely grateful for the members of my team and my colleagues who stepped up to donate time, energy and love,” Dr. Jim said. “Looking at the numbers, it was only through the grace of God and their help that I was able to stay in business.”

Duncan Dental Studio, located at 240 Reliant Drive, brings high-quality dental health care to Portland and surrounding areas. For more information or to make an appointment, call 361-643-3030.