“It looks 21st century now,” said Dr. Ronald Cooper, 77, as he walked into the remodeled building of his former dental practice located at 101 Western Hills Trail two weeks ago. 

Featuring new paint, tile instead of carpet and a kid-friendly modern feel, Cooper seemed astounded by the changes that had been made to a building that had not seen a makeover in close to four decades.

The new dental practice catered to kids, Little Lakeside Smiles, opened in Granbury on June 29, in the same place that had previously displayed the name “Ron Cooper” on the side of the building for 36 years.

The building was recently purchased and remodeled by 2005 Granbury High School graduate Dr. Ashley Tello after sitting vacant for three years following Cooper’s retirement in 2018.

On Tuesday, Oct. 19, Little Lakeside Smiles hosted a ribbon cutting to honor the new business — but Tello wanted to make the momentous occasion special by recreating the original ribbon cutting photo that was taken on July 19, 1982, when Cooper first began his practice.

“When he (Cooper) sold it, he basically handed me the keys,” Tello said. “I found a drawer that had all of his original blueprints — his father-in-law did the architecture for this building — and a picture of the ribbon cutting, so I called him (Cooper), and I said, ‘Do you want these things?' And he said, ‘No, keep them.’ I was like, ‘Well I found your ribbon cutting picture. When I have my ribbon cutting can you be there?’ He said, ‘Yes.’”

Tello said Cooper was a good support system and encouraged her in starting her own business.

“He was a big help,” she said. “He still is. If I need advice, I can call him.”

DR. COOPER’S DENTAL CAREER

Before Cooper enrolled in dental school, he grew up in Fort Worth and attended Texas Christian University where he obtained a degree in journalism because he wanted to go into advertising. However, after working at an ad agency business in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a few years, something didn’t feel right.

“What I used to have so much fun doing, what I was doing for the past three years, I was actually sick of what I was doing,” he said. “I didn’t understand what was going on. It only took two visits for my psychiatrist to figure it out and he nailed it, but I didn’t believe it. I thought he was nuts. I didn’t think he could tell me anything I didn’t already know because I thought I was pretty smart.”

The therapist told him he needed to go back to school to earn a doctorate degree and that he was “going to have to have his name on the door” because “his ego required the embellishment.”

After stewing for nine months on what his therapist told him, he ran into an old college friend who ended up pursuing a career in dentistry.

“He told me, ‘I just figured out I had to do something where I touched people.’ I said, ‘Well, that's interesting.’ And it went from there,” Cooper said.

Cooper was a 32-year-old dental school freshman and was 35 when he graduated. He noted that when he started, in 1982, he became only the fifth dentist to practice in Hood County — and things were certainly different back then.

“We got lots of bureaucracy in the world, starting in about 1984 with somebody who announced that there was evil out there, and it was called AIDS,” he said. “I took out over 2,000 teeth in dental school and never had a glove on. In 1982, we didn't wear gloves except if you knew it was gonna be an icky extraction, but there was a stigma in dentistry. ‘Why do you have a glove on? Is your hand nasty?’ But boom, changed overnight. That was probably ‘84-’85 when gloves became the standard. ‘Gee, people have germs?’ We got taught about that in dental school, but nobody wore gloves.”

For years, Cooper dealt with an “amazing array of patients,” from board presidents, to doctors, to nurses and even prisoners.

“In ‘83 it was not uncommon for the sheriff's office to call and say that they would like to bring a prisoner over with a bad tooth,” he said. “Because I was the newest, I began to get most of those calls. The other guys had paid their dues and they didn't want to deal with it. So here came one day, a murderer in shackles. I knew who he was because I had read about him in the paper. He killed a young man who had been my patient, and the young man's mother and dad were patients of mine. You just have to put that over here and take care of this man’s tooth.”

Cooper added with a chuckle, “All different kinds of people got teeth — and they're all different.”

In fact, one day Cooper heard loud screams coming from a female patient in another room.

“She was so proud of some cosmetic enhancement surgery she just had done up in Oklahoma, and she revealed it to the other ladies,” he said. “That was what all the screaming was about. I was very happy I wasn’t in there at that time.”

REMODEL FOR NEW GENERATION

Tello, 35, spent six months renovating Cooper’s old dental practice to create the perfect dental clinic — a place where children would feel comfortable going to the dentist. She even enlisted the help of her high school sweetheart and husband Josue, and her two children: Irene, 3, and Anthony, 5, to work on the renovations.

“My kids helped me. It was like a family project,” Tello said. “We would come up here as a family and my kids really did a ton of stuff. I have videos of them stuccoing the walls, so it was like hands-on every weekend getting them to be part of fixing this thing up.”

Tello created a “toy area,” where children could pick a dinosaur, stuffed animals or other small toys to take home with them after they finished their dental exam. Her children were a big help with that as well.

Little Lakeside Smiles features a movie menu where children can pick a Disney movie to play on the TV in their exam room, a “Kid’s Corner” where children can go in a small room and play with games on the wall, balloon animals and glow sticks.

“I feel like I'm a kid at heart and so that's why I love this kind of stuff,” Tello said. “I want the kids here to have good memories of visiting the dentist; that's my main goal.”

When Tello graduated from Granbury High School, she moved away to attend college at Texas A&M and the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. She currently lives in Bedford but has plans to move back to her hometown in the near future.

“Now, we have kids, and we also want them to grow up in Granbury, so that's why we're trying to come back,” she said. “I guess what they say is like, ‘Once you live in Granbury, you always come back.’”

Tello’s goal for Little Lakeside Smiles is to know every single one of her patients.

“My goal for this place is to be able to know my patients and have fun treating kids,” she said. “The kids have had the best experience, so I feel like mostly I will be able to know my patients and have them be like a family. Granbury has grown a ton. It used to be a tiny town and I grew up with that homey feel, so I kind of wanted to incorporate that here.”

Little Lakeside Smiles hours of operation are from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday and Wednesday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.

For more information, call Little Lakeside Smiles at 817-776-8656 or visit the website at littlelakesidesmiles.com.

ashley@hcnews.com | 817-573-1243