Three generations, five dentists

Timm family continues the tradition in Bend

Penny Nakamura / The Bulletin /

Published Mar 22, 2011 at 05:00AM

Bend roots run deep when it comes to the Timm family dentistry. Three generations of Timms have been practicing in the community since the 1950s.The legacy started with Dr. Edgar Timm, who hung his first D.D.S. shingle on Wall Street in downtown Bend in 1955.

“Back then when my dad started, there were only a handful of dentists in town,” said eldest son Dr. Steven Timm, 57, who eventually took over his father’s practice. “He found Bend when he was driving through to visit my uncle in Seattle, and my dad and mother fell in love with the area.”

Raising four children in Bend, Edgar Timm and his wife, Edith, were busy and active in the community, but the one thing the Timm children remember most is that no matter how busy the bustling dentist office became, their father always had time for family.

“It’s probably the reason I became a dentist, too. I knew I wanted to do something in health care, but our father never pressured us to become dentists. I just saw what he was doing, and saw how he was there for his family,” said Dr. Jeff Timm, 54, who now runs his practice alongside his two sons. “The one thing I remember is that he always came home for dinner, and he did so much for the community; he was on ski patrol and took us skiing, and he coached our Little League teams.”

If you’re counting, that’s three Timm dentists so far, in two generations.

The newest, and third generation, consists of Jeff’s sons, Dr. Andrew Timm, 33, and Dr. Ryan Timm, 29, who say they followed their father into dentistry for many of the same reasons their dad and uncle went into the family business.

“When I was in high school I really didn’t want to go into dentistry at all,” Ryan said with a boyish grin. “When I was in college, I shadowed other doctors and just got a negative vibe from surgeons and other doctors who talked about high insurance rates and not having a family life. Suddenly dentistry looked really good.”

Andrew, who has five children, echoes his brother’s feelings. “I remember my dad being there for all our baseball, soccer and football games, and taking family trips, and I knew I wanted to do that with my children, too.”

Patriarch Edgar died in 2006 at age 79, leaving his thriving dental practice to his two sons. The two graduates of Oregon Health&Science University had practiced side-by-side with their father until his retirement. They continued the original practice together at the office at 361 Franklin Ave., which was built in 1963 and was one of the original medical buildings in Bend, according to Steven.

Investing in expansion of family practice

When Jeff heard his son Andrew was going to return to the Bend area, he envisioned another Timm family dentistry practice, and in 2003 bought a lot directly across the street from the Franklin Avenue Timm office, and built his own building.

“Taking on the debt of a new building, I was a little apprehensive. But I was thrilled Andy was coming back, and at that time they had two children,” said proud grandpa Jeff. “Then Ryan was in medical school and he expressed wanting to come back to practice too, so I was just thrilled with the boys coming home.”

Andrew and Ryan, also OHSU graduates, said they’re grateful to be able to come back to an established and reputable practice in Bend.

“There’s not a week that goes by when I don’t hear an older patient say to me, ‘I remember your grandfather, and he was always patient and explained what he was going to do,’ ” Ryan said.

Ryan’s uncle Steven recalls the often painful procedures in the “bad old days of dentistry” when patients were truly afraid of dentists.

“Back when my father practiced, he had to use these big needles. They didn’t have the small disposable needles back then. They had to sterilize their needles, and they didn’t wear gloves. It was called wet-finger dentistry, and people were understandably apprehensive,” Steven said. “I think my father was one of the first dentists in town who understood their fears and listened to them. I continue to hear that from his old patients who say he was kind and gentle.”

While dental surgery has come a long way since wet-finger dentistry, Steven said, the business side has become more complicated, requiring more interaction with insurance companies.

“I found some early records of my father’s and there were charts that had entries like, X-rays $1, or tooth extraction $10. And so much was done on a handshake back then,” Steven said. “You could never do that now.”

The third generation of Timm dentists continues to remain faithful to gentle dentistry and to their grandfather’s commitment to treating patients with respect.

But sometimes the patient still bites.

“The only patient who ever bit me was my own mom,” Steven recalled. “She says she didn’t do it on purpose. I think her mouth was numb at the time.”

Common purpose

The National Family Business Council, which tracks family businesses, reports those that are passed from one generation to the next have a 40 percent chance of surviving to the second generation.By the third generation, the survival rate drops to 15 percent.

Generational succession works best, according to the council, when the family members bond together with a sense of purpose.

The Timms seem to have that in spades, as they’re always trying to improve and learn from one another, and are willing to go above and beyond as they work the family practice.

“I’m still learning,” Ryan said. “My dad and my uncle each have more than 30 years of experience in dentistry. It’s challenging, in a good way, working with your dad, because you can always ask, if there’s a difficult extraction or some other procedure. I’ve already learned a lot from them, and from Andy.”

Andrew also said it’s not unusual for him to bounce ideas off his father when he has difficult cases.

It has worked both ways. Their father says he’s asked his sons about advanced technologies, like digital imaging and newer materials.

The Timms say they all have to make a valiant effort to keep dentistry talk out of family gatherings.

“There is some family trickiness in it, because it’s not just an employee who leaves the office. We’re all still connected as a family,” said Jeff, who tries to limit dental talk to the office. “In other words, you don’t want to go to your grandchildren’s birthday party and talk dentistry.”

Third generation cranks up the rock

Working alongside his sons is more than Jeff could’ve ever dreamed, and it has also allowed him to have a little more free time.

“We got creative with the schedule. I work with them on Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he said.

On Wednesdays, Ryan said, “I work with Andy, and we crank up the (rock) music on the radio here.”

Their father jokingly asked, “Do you have dancing girls, too?”

Jeff laughed and nodded knowingly.

“I think they have younger families on Wednesdays,” he said. “I still listen to the smooth jazz stations when I’m working here.”

Jeff still holds sway, and is obviously highly regarded by both of his sons, who like to tease him about his music choices.

Andrew says his 8-year-old son, Calvin, is looking at becoming either a fireman or a tooth doctor.

Steve says his son, Spencer, 15, is not looking at a dentistry future. Upon hearing this, Ryan reminds his uncle: “I used to say that too, when I was in high school. It was probably the last thing I wanted to do. You never know, though.”

Ryan says it wouldn’t surprise him a bit if there were a fourth generation of Timm dentists.

Challenge of living up to family name

Calm and always unassuming, Andrew says even if he weren’t a dentist, he’d still have to live up to the formidable surname, as his face gives him away every time.

“People give me a long look, and then they always say, ‘You must be a Timm,’ ” he said. “When you live in this town, someone always recognizes you from your grandpa, from your dad, or from your uncles. And there’s always that family name. But I think my grandfather, father and uncles have set the bar pretty high, and there’s a lot of pressure to that.”

The burden of the family business is living up to that family name.

“What my grandpa started here was based on great values. He had family and community values, and to be a part of that standing in this community is daunting,” said Ryan, looking at a photograph of his grandfather.

Besides the legacy of the dentistry practice, patriarch Edgar also left his mark with his love of skiing.He inspired the local dentists of the day to participate in an annual ski race at Mt. Bachelor. That race slope is still known as “Dentist’s Way.”

“There were probably 30 or 40 dental professionals who skied in that race in the late 1960s or early 1970s,” Steven recalled. “That was my dad’s idea.”

Whether filling a cavity or racing down a slope, Edgar started a dental practice in Bend that continues today. Patients continue to ask for “Dr. Timm.”

The only problem now is knowing which one of the four they mean.