July 15 marks quite a milestone for J. Newsom Baker, DDS, MS in orthodontics: 45 years in practice in Maryville.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “It really is. It’s been a lot of work but a lot of fun, and for me to still have the privilege to do this — I am blessed.”
Baker grew up in McKenzie, in West Tennessee. He knew from the time he was 15 years old, when he got braces on his teeth, that he wanted to be an orthodontist.
“The orthodontist in Jackson, where I got my braces, had just taken in a new orthodontist who had just gotten out of school,” Baker recalled. “He was a crazy, crazy guy, just a nut. He was always teasing me. After about three months in braces, it dawned on me that this guy looked like he was having fun, maybe this would be a career. After about a month, I decided this was it. Then with my usual lack of patience, I thought, ‘How soon can I get to be one?’”
Baker’s father was president of a small college in McKenzie, Bethel College, now Bethel University. “When I was about 14, he said, ‘You’re not goofing off this summer. You’re getting a job.’ Well, I was playing lead guitar in a rock ‘n’ roll band and I said, ‘Daddy, I make more in one night playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band than my buddies make working all week sacking groceries or whatever.’”
His father agreed, but said, “OK, if you’re not going to get a job, you’re going to college.” Baker was still in high school, but his father worked out a way for him to take college classes during the summers. “That got me ahead,” Baker said. He was only 19 when he started dental school.
“I may still hold the record for the youngest person to ever graduate from orthodontics school and set up a practice,” Baker said. “I was only 24 when I came to Alcoa.”
Baker chose to open his practice in Blount County for two reasons.
“One, I was looking for a place that would give me a relatively fast start, so I got directories of dentists and orthodontists in different locales in the state of Tennessee,” he recalled. Blount County in 1974 had 16 dentists but no full-time orthodontist. “That was the best ratio of anywhere in the state, plus I had friends from McKenzie who had gone to the University of Tennessee and I would come up here and go backpacking with them. I was absolutely in love with the Smokies, so that made it an easy decision.”
Baker found another plus after moving to Blount County. Nine months later, in 1975, he met Beverly Brown, who would become his wife. “She was a local girl,” he said. “Her dad was Carl Brown. He was an incredible guy here in the community. … I got blessed again to get into that family.”
Baker said the highlights of his career include meeting so many people and helping them get their smile back.
“Really, I was in the self-esteem business,” he said. “They wanted to improve their smile, but I was hoping I could help them develop into better people, as well. I’ve seen patients develop into great citizens, whether they raised great families or turned out to have super careers.”
Debbie Casey, one of Baker’s patients, credits him with giving her a smile. She had endured bullying and teasing throughout her childhood because of her teeth, and was an adult before she saw Baker and received the treatment she needed. This was 35 years ago. When she got her braces off, she said, “That was the first time in my life that I wanted to smile. He changed my life. I had horrible self-esteem. He doesn’t just straighten teeth — he straightens lives.”
Casey is now wearing braces again after having to wear a CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) device. “He gave me tips on what to with the CPAP to help, and makes a point of working with my dentist to make sure the problem won’t crop up again.”
A time to celebrate
To celebrate the 45th anniversary, Baker and his staff will be having lunch from 12:30-1:45 p.m. Monday, July 15, at Sullivan’s Downtown, Maryville, in the Alcove Room. Office manager Laura Brown said, “Anybody who wants to drop by, say hello or congratulations is welcome.”
Baker is now in the office about three days each month seeing patients. Dr. Mark Owens now sees the majority of patients at what is now Owens-Baker Orthodontics on East Lamar Alexander Parkway in Maryville.
Baker lives in Louisville with his wife, Beverly, and their standard poodles. He enjoys traveling and spending time outdoors, especially snow skiing and water sports, and is an amateur Porsche racer. He also serves his community through Maryville Kiwanis Club and other charitable endeavors.
Baker said he’s never regretted the decision to come to Blount County. “Blount County is an even better area, a better community than I ever dreamed it would be. There are so many dedicated people who volunteer their time and effort. I’ve been lucky enough to travel all over the world, but I wouldn’t dream of living anywhere else but here.”