Dr. Charles Guest, more commonly known as “Dr. Charlie,” is in his 50th year of practicing dentistry and likes to say his vocation and his avocation are the same.
He’s an Arkansas native who graduated from the University of Tennessee Dental School at age 22, the youngest graduate at the time.
Guest spent four years in the military as a naval dentist in California and on the Pacific island of Guam. In that time, he completed internships in endodontics, oral surgery and periodontics. Guest said he would go watch oral surgeons work after he got off.
After his stint in the military, like many other professionals, he came to Kingsport looking for opportunity.
“In my little town in Arkansas, Pine Bluff, we had no opportunity,” Guest recalled. “My father didn’t feel like we had a lot of opportunity. He told my brother and me one time, ‘This is the hardest conversation I’m ever going to have, but I tell you need to start looking for another place to live.’ The Vietnam War was on. You had the draft so everybody was in the reserve. We went to Annapolis in the summer for the Navy. (Kingsport) was halfway between Memphis and Annapolis. I met this cute little girl who was in dental hygiene. I first came up here in 1965. They just built Stone Drive. They just built D-B. Teacher salaries were two and a half times what they were in Arkansas. Eastman had 15,000 employees here. It was cool at night. I had never been anywhere where it was cool at night. Hot used to be 84-86 degrees. They would complain around here, and I was used to 100 (degrees), and I used to laugh at them. I saw a great opportunity to come here. I decided to come here whether anything happened with this girl or not.”
Guest and his wife, Carol, made Kingsport their hometown in 1970.
“The dental supply people told me I should go to Gray. … I went out there, bought a half-acre of land, then went to a dental meeting that night, and somebody heard I was back in town,” Guest recalled. “They offered me the ideal job, and I stayed with them 10 years. I started looking for my own place in 1978.”
That place is the Chestnut Grove Dental Complex built off Fort Henry Drive. The property is shaded and has wildlife all around it.
“Interest rates were 21 percent with (then President) Jimmy Carter,” Guest said of that time. “We didn’t have a firm commitment on the loan. We were very nervous because we went over budget when we built all this stuff.”
The main building housing the practice does have much natural light pouring into it to calm patients.
“That was by purpose,” Guest said of his building’s design. “We had been in a closed place that had murals on the walls. We wanted to make it open.”
As his connectivity to Kingsport grew, he became a community volunteer at the Friends In Need Dental Clinic and Remote Area Medical Dental Clinic. He has served as vice president and president of the First District Dental Society. He’s also served as president of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Boys Club.
His dental practice also brought in two additional dentists, son Chet and daughter Meaghan, to work with their father at the growing practice.
Guest also made a commitment to continuing education. From 1973 to 1976, he attended and graduated from the world renowned Florida-based L.D. Pankey Institute, which focuses on advanced dental education. In 2007, he was selected as one of America’s top dentists. He was also named a member of the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry.
“I’ve always worked quite a bit,” Guest said. “Because of Eastman (Chemical Co.), I’ve always grown every year, and I could predict what I would make three years from now. We never had the real highs and lows that practices in Atlanta or Nashville have. Our dental fees are the lowest of any ZIP code in America because of Appalachia. That makes us work a little harder because of that.”
Over the years, the practice has also added specialties such as dental implants, orthodontics and Invisalign services.
The future for dentistry, said Guest, indicates diagnosis will be easier with the growth of 3-D technology.
“The beauty of dentistry is if you want to keep taking classes and learn, you can really have a fun career,” he explained. “I learn something every day. It’s just a great job. … I still believe in dentistry. Twenty-five percent of all dental freshmen are physicians’ children. They think dentistry is going to be a really good profession.”