Phoenix Suns small forward P.J. Tucker feels like it’s his second home. Not Talking Stick Resort Arena, but Dr. B’s office.
“I live in Dr. B’s office,” Tucker said with a chuckle. “I get chipped teeth and teeth knocked out all the time.”
Dr. B is John Badolato, the Suns team dentist. His job is to get up-close with the players often during the NBA season.
Right at the teeth close.
Badolato earned his dental degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and currently runs his own dental facility, Studio B Smiles, in Scottsdale. He also treats the Phoenix Mercury and the Suns dancers.
The Suns dental team consists of Badolato, Andrew Krygier, Todd Jorgenson, Michael W. Golding and J. Gregory Sabol. Their roles with the team range from dental care to facial improvements.
The dental team begins its NBA season the same as the Suns – at training camp. The day before training camp starts, the Suns undergo physicals with team doctors and medical specialists like Badolato to identify issues and treat them to avoid complications once the regular season is underway.
“We assess and diagnosis everything, but we are looking for things that can develop further and potentially cause a player issues during the hectic season,” Badolato said. “We don’t want any unforeseen complications with the players that we could have treated (sooner).”
Once the season starts, Badolato is in the locker room before most home games. After pregame checkups with players, he puts his season tickets to use, usually watching the game from courtside seats.
In the age of high-definition television, Badolato said a player’s appearance is important to maintain. As far as teeth are concerned, Badolato implements a makeover consisting of Invisalign, which straightens the teeth, and veneers, which whiten and/or change the shape, size or length of teeth.
“Many players have marketing deals and it’s always great to have a nice smile,” Badolato said. “Some makeovers, of course, are due to repairing sports trauma to teeth.”
Guard Sonny Weems is one of the newest Suns but is already impressed with Badolato’s office.
“It’s really relaxing. You got the TV up,” Weems said. “So when you lay back you can watch TV and listen to your own music. He does a great job of making players feel relaxed, feel comfortable at the office so it won’t feel like you been there all day.”
Over the years, Badolato said the team’s international-born players, as well as U.S.-born players competing overseas, have had worse teeth than players born in the United States who have only played in the U.S.
“Some of them have had really bad dental experiences growing up due to lack of care or very poor quality dental care,” Badolato said. “So we do our best to make them as comfortable as possible.”
Weems and Tucker both played abroad for four years and appeared to prefer the care they receive in the U.S.
“I only had to go a couple of times to a couple of places in Europe but it wasn’t that great,” Tucker said. “It just wasn’t like it is here. They didn’t put me under well. It (was) just different, a different experience.”
Overseas, Weems took care of himself dental-wise, the usual flossing and brushing night and day. Now he has his own dentist in Dr. Badolato.
“You try to stay up on your dentist appointments,” Weems said. “That’s what I’ve been getting better at actually.”
There are some unique challenges to treating a basketball team, particularly the fact that some of the players are quite a bit larger than the average dental patient. The dental team needs to add extra foot support for athletes like Suns centers Alex Len and Tyson Chandler, both more than 7 feet tall, because their legs extend far off from the standard dental chairs.
The Suns training staff is regarded as one of the best in the league, but Badolato said his medical staff is second to none.
“The training and medical staff are tops in the NBA,” he said. “We are all individually some of the best at what we do, but collectively we are even better.”