By SARAH DOOLITTLE
Four Points News
Steiner Ranch Orthodontics founder Dr. James Waters and his wife and office manager Kim have a passion for where they live and what they do.
“It is our livelihood, it is our business,” explained Kim. “James has always wanted to be the orthodontist. That’s all James wants to do is straighten teeth… We work well together. It gives him peace of mind knowing that I’m running things behind the scenes.”
Founded in 2008, their Steiner Ranch location serves the Four Points community, in addition to their original office on 35th Street in downtown Austin, which Dr. Waters took over from another orthodontist after moving to Austin in 2001.
The Waters were lucky to be able to buy the land on which their office is located on Quinlan Park Road when Steiner was still under development. “We wanted to be invested in the neighborhood. We didn’t want to just rent something here,” said Kim.
“Owning the (stand-alone) office, owning the land, allows us to keep… everything pretty moderately priced,” he said, adding it gave Kim the opportunity to use her degree in interior decorating. “For the longest time (the Steiner office) was nicer than my house.”
Growing up in New Mexico, Dr. Waters’ father was a potash miner, and James was the first in his family to earn an advanced degree.
While in college, he always, “had a hard job in the summer… My dad had me lined up pouring concrete or doing something crazy all summer, and so I’d go home, work outside all the time, and by the time school rolled around, I was ready. Get me back to the books, get me back to indoor air conditioning.”
Kim grew up in Dallas and met Dr. Waters by chance while visiting New Mexico from college in Lubbock with a roommate. The two started dating “between Lubbock and San Antonio,” explained Kim. “It was a long drive! (But) it worked out great.”
After Dr. Waters graduated from San Antonio in 1996, the two married and moved around the U.S. Dr. Waters completed his residency in Nebraska, then the two moved to Oregon, where daughter Hope was born, and Missouri, where son Cole was born, before returning to Austin and having two more kids, son Luke and daughter Ava.
“We had moved all around and really wanted to raise our family back in Texas,” explained Kim.
“Austin’s a great area,” said Dr. Waters. “It’s a young city, lots of kids, very progressive, very health-oriented.”
A passion for their community
Kim said that her husband had always wanted to be a, “kind of small town doctor, so to be in the neighborhood like this has been a lot of fun.”
Living in the community in which they work means that patients can easily find Dr. Waters or Kim, whether around Steiner or at their house, where it’s not uncommon for kids to knock on the door needing adjustments to their braces or help with a dental emergency. The Waters are more than happy to care for them.
“We try to be more comprehensive than just braces,” said Dr. Waters. “It’s that relationship that you build with these patients that is just so much more fun. This is what I love about being able to be an orthodontist.”
Unlike regular dentistry, which, as he said, “no one really wants to go, they just have to go,” orthodontics patients look forward to their results. “You actually improve on nature. To see the difference from before and after with braces, it can be incredible.”
Dr. Waters takes particular pleasure in his special needs patients, who sometimes require extra attention and visits. Steiner Ranch Orthodontics is now the key sponsor of the newly-formed Viper SPED (Special Education) Boosters. “It is the first special needs booster (club) in the state. It’s incredible,” he said.
Besides advertising with and supporting a number of other local programs and events, the practice also sends dental supplies to countries in need with various groups serving on an ongoing basis or after a disaster.
Despite his love for the Steiner Ranch practice, Dr. Waters still appreciates the variety his downtown clients. “It’s a lot of adults… way more complicated stuff. Here it’s mostly adolescents and younger kids. It’s nice to have both,” he said.
A family-centered practice
Working with her husband is great, said Kim. “Because what he does gives me the freedom to be mom and work. It gives me a lot of flexibility. And with four kids, we stay crazy busy.”
They’ve watched patients grow up in their practice along with their own kids. “Luke and Ava both came to work with me in their carseats and would sit by my desk while I did paperwork,” said Kim. Son Cole now works at the practice during summers cleaning and running lab samples. “Cole now wants to be an orthodontist when he grows up. We’re super excited about that.”
The pair is grateful for their outstanding staff and take their responsibility to employees seriously. Dr. Waters knows that if he’s not working, neither are they. “They’ve got to make their bills. So we can’t take a ton of vacation. People are depending on me.”
It’s only in recent years that the family has been able to travel more, going to nearby destinations Disney World and to visit family in New Mexico around the holidays, where Dr. Waters and his sons like to go quail hunting.
Besides, said Kim, “It costs a fortune to take six people anywhere. And honestly, we live in Austin. There’s so much to do here… We stay local.”
For this family man, there is only one option. “He prides himself on being the very best at what he does, and always has,” Kim explained. “It’s not an ego thing with him. It’s very much his passion. In dental school, he was the top of the class. In ortho school, he was the top of the class. We had two small kids and yet he still managed to be the very top of his orthodontic class.”
Dr. Waters quickly added that, “You can’t run a practice like this without a wife like this.”