Triumphing over an unfortunate sporting accident as an adolescent, dentist Afunrhe Oghre-Ikanone is now restoring the confidence of others one smile at a time.
While his name is a mouthful (no dental pun intended) in itself, (pronounced Uh-fu-ray O-gray Ek-u-none) his passion for his patients and the place he now calls home is easy to spot. Affectionately called Dr. O and partly out of necessity, the young dentist officially celebrated the grand opening of the Mount Pleasant Family Dental (located inside the former Beane’s Hallmark store next to Super 1) Aug. 19, 2017.
A native of Nigeria, Dr. O grew up the middle child in a family of five children. At age 12, while playing soccer, he ran into a goal post head on. The impact of the collision caused his tooth to become jammed inside his mouth. The injury had potentially catastrophic consequences for the young athlete.
“It was very painful for me,” he said. “Add to that the fact that there was a lack of amenities when it came to medical care in my country and the process was even more difficult.”
Out of school for more than six months and undergoing a series of painful surgeries, Dr. O eventually recovered from the injury. Initially thinking he might want to become an engineer when he grew up, the life-altering experience forever changed him.
“I fell in love with what the dentists did to restore my smile,” he said. “When I first went in, I could barely smile. It was like they performed magic. I knew then that I wanted to become a dentist. “
As a member of the Oghre-Ikanone household, the expectation was for each child to do well in school, graduate and come to the United States to “better themselves.”
“Growing up in Nigeria was very rough just in a sense that it was hard just living from day to day,” he said. “We knew from an early age that we needed to study hard so that we could have opportunities beyond what our own country could offer. And because I knew God remains constant I trusted that He would take care of me in whatever direction I decided to go.”
That direction initially took Dr. O to St. Louis for his undergraduate degree and later to Howard University where he spent five years in dental school. He completed his residency in Buffalo, NY and eventually moved to Dallas. While hanging out with some of his friends, by chance, he ended up in Sulphur Springs on an impromptu visit. Intrigued by the East Texas region, he returned to Hopkins County but then decided to head further east on Interstate 30 to Mount Pleasant.
“I did some research and learned that there was a need for dentists in this area,” he said. “I also liked the mix here in Mount Pleasant; it’s a very diverse place—melting pot. I felt like God brought me here and that I could make something happen. I started thinking to myself: ‘I think I can make this place home.”
And that’s exactly what he did. Renting a small apartment in town, Dr. O ‘set up shop’ and began renovating their new location. It’s a move he and his staff have quickly settled into.
“Mount Pleasant has been so welcoming,” he said about the new business. “It’s nice to feel appreciated. I’m very happy I made the move. Our new location gives me the opportunity to continue restoring confidence in my patients’ lives. It is so rewarding for me to see that when it happens especially when it is children.”
The confidence he and his siblings gained as children has now translated into all five (three other brothers and a sister) now living in the States and working in the medical field. As the only dentist, Dr. O’s family includes a medical doctor, a physical therapist, a pharmacist and another soon-to-be pharmacist. While Dr. O travels home at least once a year to visit, his parents regularly come to America to check on their offsprings. And speaking of Coming to America, Dr. O says the iconic 1988 movie, starring Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall, is one of his all-time favorites.
“I think the movie did a great job depicting the different cultures as well as showing the misconceptions of both. I loved that movie. After watching so many movies growing up, I actually thought America might not be too safe. I was afraid someone might shoot me in the streets,” he smiled. “It’s nice to know that’s not true at all. Since moving here, I think the biggest difference from home is the food. It took some time getting use to that, but I think I’ve adjusted well.”
The well-adjusted dentist is already looking to the future both professionally and personally.
“We would like to offer orthodontic services in the future as well as more oral surgery procedures,” he said. “It would also be great to eventually expand to other locations in the area. For me personally, someday I would definitely like to get married and have a family.”
For now, though, Dr. O is content with reminding himself of the most important advice he received from his father, an economist, starting when he was a young boy.
“My Dad would often say: ‘All you need to be great in life is already inside of you. All you need to do is stir it up.’ “That’s awesome to think that I already have greatness running through my veins.”