Dr. Joanna Claustro

Care, compassion, and creating relationships:
One dentist’s mission to keep the human touch in health care.

It would be natural to think that, growing up with two physician parents who she dearly admired, Joanna Claustro easily decided to become a health care provider herself early on. But that’s not how it went for this somewhat “rebellious” middle child.

“As a middle child, I didn’t want to do what my parents did,” she says. “I rebelled a bit, and didn’t want to be a doctor. In high school I wanted to write a screenplay and be famous!”

But for Claustro – that’s now Dr. Claustro – life took different turns. The dentist and small business owner, now with a thriving practice in Ashburn, ended up in dentistry almost by chance.

“Dentistry wasn’t even on my radar,” she says. “I really wanted to build a business and considered getting an MBA. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur.” Although she became an entrepreneur eventually, her path was not a straight one. In college she studied computer science, inspired in part by a “cute boy in my class” (her now husband, Bob). Upon graduation she worked for a small business that sold fine wines and high-end liquors.

That experience helped Dr. Claustro “appreciate what it takes to build and run a family business, and to see the passion that the owners had was awesome,” she says. But the woman who had been raised in a small town in southwestern Virginia always wanted to return home, so she did, working for the Society for Nuclear Medicine doing marketing and graphic design.

“I got to know people that worked in the medical field,” Dr. Claustro says, “and that brought me back home, to my roots – it inspired me to help improve people’s health and lives.” Her brother-in-law was finishing dental school, and “all the things fell into place.” In dentistry, Dr. Claustro says, “I saw an opportunity to be a creative problem-solver and help improve people’s health, but beyond that, to help drive people’s confidence. I think I knew that so many people hate the dentist that I had an opportunity to build something different, to build relationships, …to build what my dad did, and gain people’s trust and respect, and in doing so I could help people appreciate what fixing a smile can be.”

The new opportunity further connected her to a longheld appreciation for her parents’ work. Her mom, an anesthesiologist, and her father, a general surgeon, not only had to gain their patients’ trust because of the sensitive nature of medical care, but because of the size of the community. “My parents were working as Filipino immigrants in a very small town where everyone knows everyone. It’s not like in a large city where you can work and then move on… where I grew up, it was even more important to build relationships.”

The respect her parents earned and the success they achieved in the community inspired Dr. Claustro’s professional and personal code of conduct to be kind to everyone. She also knew that she would have to “prove her chops” and rise through the ranks to be relatable to others. “I took a huge risk, which is a big part of being an entrepreneur, by leaving a good job to go back to school. I worked hard to get into dental school, then worked as a dental assistant for a while, starting from the entry point, working on the support side in a dental office,” she says. “I knew I wanted to own my business and wanted to gain my team’s trust and respect in them knowing that I have worked in these roles.”

Even with an established practice now for five years, she still works to earn the respect of staff and patients. “Just because I have ‘DMD’ behind my name, my patients don’t have to automatically trust me. I have to build that with them, by listening to them, learning their history, and understanding their expectations,” she says. During an initial consultation, she will spend 30-60 minutes with new patients, getting to know them and striving to create an environment where patients are comfortable, and that inspires confidence by “empowering patients to make decisions that are right for them.” Ultimately, she says, her work is part of an effort “to improve the human experience. I want people to feel good.”

Just as Dr. Claustro kind of fell into dentistry, where she opened her practice also was a matter of chance. To launch her business, she searched for dental practices she could purchase, and found one in Ashburn. “Loudoun had such growth potential, I realized,” she says. “What I didn’t realize until later was the diversity in the area, and through that I have learned about different cultures and how people value different things.“

“I’ve really enjoyed that, and it was a nice surprise. I knew Fairfax was diverse but didn’t realize how much Loudoun also would be. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and I’m challenged every day on how to treat people of different backgrounds. We take for granted [in the United States] how much access to care we have here, when sometimes you have to educate smart, college-educated people from other places on basic health care. Doing this is helping me be a better provider in dentistry.”

Dr. Claustro calls this experience humbling – much like becoming a parent has done. As the mother of a toddler – Hudson, “the love of my life” – she now better understands the challenges that parents face. “I now have a new respect for all moms. It drives me professionally to want to help all parents more. I realize we often put ourselves behind.”

To make sure she doesn’t take this time for granted, Dr.Claustro enjoys exploring Northern Virginia with her husband and son as much as possible. “I love that in NOVA we have so many nice places to eat and you can still bring your kid. It’s such a family-rich area that welcomes children, where people aren’t rolling your eyes if you show up with a kid, and this is great. As a mom you already have so much to worry about.”

Dr. Joanna Claustro
Marblehead Office Park @ One Loudoun
20745 Williamsport Place
Suite 300
Ashburn, VA 2-147
703.406.8600
www.claustrodental.com

 

Photos By Traci Medlock