GUILDERLAND — His mother and his aunt are dentists, and so were all four of his grandparents, so Sergey Berenshteyn became … an orthodontist.
“I come from a very deep dental family,” said Dr. Berenshteyn, who actually set out to be a general dentist but changed course along the way. Straightening teeth is physically easier for an orthodontist than filling cavities is for a dentist, he said, but orthodontics is an extended process that involves more planning and builds a closer connection to his patients as they return each month for progress checks and adjustments. Which he likes.
“You may see a kid over the course of four or five years; you get to know that family,” he said.
Berenshteyn, now 35, opened his own practice — Clifton Park Orthodontics — in 2012. He’s undertaken a gradual course of expansion, adding a second office in Guilderland in 2014 and a third office in Latham in 2017. (The Guilderland and Latham offices are called Adirondack Orthodontics.)
He’s also brought in a second orthodontist and upgraded the practice’s technology, but he’s probably done expanding, at least in the short term. The practice is a manageable size, and all three sites are within a quick drive of each other.
“I think right now I’m pretty happy where I am,” he said.
Berenshteyn was born in Ukraine when it was still part of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet empire collapsed, and Ukraine gained independence, his parents moved the family to the United States as soon as it became possible to leave, and never looked back. They lived first in Staten Island, then in Guilderland, where Berenshteyn attended high school.
Along with earning bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees, and undergoing two years of post-graduate training in orthodontics, Berenshteyn also did a one-year residency in general dentistry, even though he’d already decided not to be a general dentist.
He said the experience gave him a better awareness of the factors that influence orthodontic treatment beyond his own work realigning teeth, such as periodontal disease, bone loss, future implant placement and jaw surgery. This now helps him to better understand and plan the multidisciplinary treatment necessary for some patients.
He started out working for a New York City orthodontist, but within two years was ready to start his own practice. Having enjoyed life in the Capital Region, he looked back here.
He and his wife, Biana Miller, now live in Guilderland with their two young children, not far from his Western Avenue office.
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Berenshteyn not only grew up the son of a dentist, he got to watch her go through dental school. Soviet-era dentistry was so primitive that Flora Berenshteyn was not allowed to practice when she immigrated to the United States, and she had to start from scratch at age 45.
“She was just shocked she had to learn like any other 22-year-old,” Berenshteyn said.
She also had to learn the English language as she studied American dentistry at NYU. Looking back, her son realizes it was both educational and inspirational to him as he grew toward adulthood and his own career.
The senior Dr. Berenshteyn is still in practice in Brooklyn at age 68. And her sister, Irina Tsesis, is a general dentist in practice in Troy.
The last of the grandparents, dentists all, passed on in late 2016.
Berenshteyn’s father and sister are the only non-dentists among them, and work as a computer programmer and a biologist, respectively.
Berenshteyn has used more than 10,000 feet of wire building braces for more than 2,500 patients since he opened his first office. More recently, though, he’s following an industry trend away from braces toward clear plastic aligners such as Invisalign.
Braces still are an important option for some patients, he said, but for many, the aligners are a preferable option, easy to clean and easy to remove for meals.
Adirondack Orthodontics also invested in a computer scanner that creates a three-dimensional image of the patient’s teeth. It allows the orthodontist to show the patient how the teeth will be realigned, and at what pace, and eliminates the need to make a mold of the patient’s teeth out of putty.
It’s also an important part of the Invisalign process, showing the company exactly how the orthodontist wants it to make the new aligner the patient will need each week.
As Berenshteyn’s operation has grown, so has its workforce. He now has 10 full-time employees, and in October 2016 he brought in a second orthodontist, Dr. Larisa Takhalova. (She also was born in the Soviet Union, like Berenshteyn, but a couple thousand miles east, in Uzbekistan. Their meeting was a sheer coincidence wrought by their alumni network.)
All three offices are within a short distance of the Northway, and they operate on staggered hours, allowing adequate support staff — and with the arrival of Takhalova, at least one orthodontist — to be in each office whenever it’s open.
Adults are a growing percentage of his patients, in part because of advances in low-visibility orthodontics, but children still make up more than two-thirds of his practice.
“I work with the best, not just age group, but the best demographic,” Berenshteyn said. By this he means people interested in improving the structure of their mouths, which has functional as well as aesthetic benefits.
“Even the teenagers, the younger patients, they want to get this done,” he added. “The adults like it too — they’re actually one of the biggest self-referrals.”
There has been extensive consolidation and corporate growth in the medical world, and orthodontics is seeing it as well, Berenshteyn said. This is not yet very common among Capital Region orthodontists, he said, although he’s already been offered a corporate affiliation once in his career. In larger markets, and particularly in expensive areas, it can be hard to remain independent, which is what he wants. He doesn’t want to be part of an ensemble cast moving from office to office within the corporation.
“I love coming to work, I love knowing my patients,” Berenshteyn said. “I didn’t want the revolving door of associates. [Takhalova is] is going to be on a partner track.”
He added: “I think in the Capital District we are as well-suited as we can be to make it work.”
Another threat is the advent of do-it-yourself orthodontics, he said — patients taking molds of their own teeth at home and mailing them to a company that mails back a plastic aligner for much less money than a series of visits to an orthodontist.
“I think the biggest battle is educating the population on what orthodontics is, what orthodontists do,” Berenshteyn said.
And that is: A realignment of teeth planned and monitored by someone trained and experienced in doing it, and knowledgeable in the situations or conditions that can make it go wrong.
Plastic aligners are easy enough to make and use but not as easy to strategize, he added — they take longer to work than wire braces, and the changes they bring about are imperceptible to the naked eye from one week to the next.
“You can’t just figure it out as you go along,” he said. “We want your teeth to be in equilibrium.”