Dental Student Pursues Family Profession

Monday, June 18, 2007 4:40 P.M. 


Setback helps success take root for dental student pursuing family profession


FREELAND When J. Neil Della Croce comes home from college for a weekend visit with his parents, it’s pretty common for the topic of conversation around the dinner table to focus on teeth.

No, his family members don’t chew with their mouths open. But Della Croce’s dad and sister are dentists, and he’s following in their footsteps. For them, talking about teeth is like discussing the weather, politics or sports.

“It’s almost as if it was our sport. It is our sport,” the 24-year-old said during a recent interview at his father and sister’s dental office in Freeland.

Della Croce is a first-year student in Temple University’s dentistry program, pursuing his doctorate.

Perhaps that’s not too surprising, considering that his sister, father, grandfather, grandfather’s uncle and great-grandfather all graduated from Temple’s dentistry program.

“I felt it was expected of me. But I was kind of on the fence because I wanted to do my own thing,” Della Croce admitted.

As it turns out, doing his own thing led him back down a path to dentistry, but not before opening up several new doors that broadened his career path.

After graduating from Bishop Hafey High School in Hazle Township in 2000, Della Croce enrolled at King’s College, where he pursued a double-major in neuroscience and biology and a minor in English literature.

After graduation, he spent the summer of 2004 shadowing doctors at medical and dental offices, and then did an internship with the Campbells soup company in New York City thanks to a family friend who is a recruiter with the company.

Next, he applied to Temple, but his application was rejected. So he enrolled at Bloomsburg University and earned a master’s degree in exercise physiology because he’s “always been interested in exercise.”

Della Croce was required to write a thesis paper as part of his master’s degree work, so he applied to a dental clinic near Philadelphia as a research assistant.

Little did he know at the time that Prosthodontics Intermedica in Fort Washington was the home base of Dr. Thomas Balshi, who developed “Teeth in a Day” after studying with Swedish scientist Per Ingvar Brånemark.

The trademarked process allows patients to receive a full set of permanent replacement teeth – similar to dentures, but with the plates permanently attached inside the mouth – in one visit.

Della Croce exudes enthusiasm when explaining the process, noting that Balshi developed it as a result of what Brånemark thought was a failed experiment – using a metal tube to rejoin a broken bone in a rabbit’s leg.

The metal tube bonded with the bone and could not be removed, but Balshi saw that the process would be beneficial with dental implants.

Della Croce learned all about the process, and so impressed were the young student’s new employers with his interest, multifaceted experience and drive to succeed, he was chosen to make presentations on the breakthrough dental technique at conferences.

He even appeared in a TV commercial with race car driver Mario Andretti to promote the dental implant method.

After working to improve his test-taking skills, Della Croce reapplied to Temple, and this time, his entrance exam scores surpassed even his sister’s and father’s. He continues working as a research assistant with Prosthodontics while attending Temple.

Through all his experiences, Della Croce said he’s learned one important thing that other students should keep in mind.

“Apparent times of failure ended up to be the most important component to one’s success. Per Ingvar Brånemark’s apparent failure when his metal tube could not be removed, and my failure to be accepted to Temple Dental on my first application made all the difference in our stories,” Della Croce said.

“Without these moments of failure, our futures would never have been the same. I definitely would not have gone to Bloomsburg and delved into research as soon as I did, and I surely would have missed the opportunity to work with Dr. Balshi,” he said.

But does he have any second thoughts about “doing his own thing” instead of dentistry?

“I’m glad I explored other options. Now I’m comfortable that this is what I want to do. … I guess this is what I was made to do,” Della Croce said, sporting nothing less than a perfect smile.

“Apparent times of failure ended up to be the most important component to one’s success.”

J. Neil Della Croce
Temple University student who at first didn’t get accepted into its dental program

Pi Dental Center, Fort Washington, PA