Wife and Husband Fill the Periodontist Gap

CANFIELD, Ohio – A stroke of serendipity landed Dr. Jennifer Zavoral in Canfield to fill a void in the dental community.

An unexpected set of twins was the catalyst for periodontist Zavoral and her husband, Ernie, to sell their dream “forever home” they had just finished building near Pittsburgh and move to Ernie’s hometown of Canfield. The Zavorals always wanted to settle here. The timing, though, never worked out.

In 2009, Zavoral approached prominent Canfield-based periodontist Dr. Patrick Haggerty about joining his practice after her impending graduation from dental school. Haggerty told her he wasn’t interested in taking anyone on at his practice, that he planned to practice until he no longer could.

“We connected multiple times over the years and had discussions about me coming back here. But we just couldn’t seem to get the timing right. It just wasn’t working out,” Zavoral says. “I said, ‘OK, this isn’t meant to be. Maybe we’re not supposed to be in Youngstown.’ ”

Zavoral was in the process of buying the practice of the periodontist she was working with in western Pennsylvania when, on Christmas Day 2018, she discovered she was pregnant. On Valentine’s Day, she found out it was twins. “It was a game changer. We’re now having two more kids when we already had two kids,” Zavoral says.

Less than a month later, Zavoral received a call from Dr. Haggerty’s wife. Haggerty was terminally ill and wanted to sell the practice to her. All the pieces began to fall into place, Zavoral says, and it seemed like fate – or a higher power – was pushing them back to Canfield.

“We wanted to be closer to our family. We needed that help. And the practice opportunity was here,” Zavoral says. “Maybe it’s all about timing and the timing is now. So, we sold our house that we had built less than two years before, picked up and moved when I was seven months pregnant with our twins and bought this practice.”

They moved in with Ernie’s parents in Canfield in May 2019 and began the process of purchasing the practice. Haggerty died two months later.

The real work began once Zavoral took over the practice full-time. Haggerty had practiced for 50 years. The practice needed a complete tech overhaul and as luck would have it, there was already a tech guru in the family.

Ernie Zavoral left his corporate career in the tech world after 15 years to help his wife get her practice up and running. He runs the business and tech sides of the practice. The decision to leave his 9-to-5 job was one already in progress; the purchase of the practice and the twins pushed him over the edge.

“I ended up getting into technology in Pittsburgh and ended up with a company that paid for an MBA and another master’s degree at night. And I didn’t know what I was going to do with it,” he says. “But I knew I wanted to help her with her business.”

Ernie Zavoral spent nearly every night at the practice when they first purchased it, overhauling the technology. The only thing done digitally was the payment system. All appointments, paychecks and timecards were still done on paper.

Mahoning Valley Periodontics and Dental Implants came to fruition in the fall 2019. Zavoral began to serve new and old patients, including Haggerty’s former patient roster. As business began to pick up in March 2020, the pandemic stopped it in its tracks.

“We’re like ramping up our practice and then we have to shut the doors,” Zavoral recalls.

Zavoral didn’t reopen her practice until June but she had no problem bouncing back. The practice saw more patients that June than it had in its history, including during Haggerty’s tenure.

Zavoral credits the success largely to referrals from local dentists and to the fact that she is one of the few periodontists in the area. “It’s a great dental community. It’s a small town,” she says, “but there’s just a great network.”

She also credits her team members, who have become like family to the Zavorals. Ernie describes it as “a great group of gals” who keep the business running with five-star reviews across the board.

Ernie Zavoral says his wife filled a gap in the community. She is the only periodontist in Canfield, and one of the few in the Mahoning Valley. On top of that, she’s just good at what she does, he says.

“Every year we have probably 80 referrals or so. They could send patients to Cleveland or Pittsburgh if they thought that the care was better. But they all have gleaming reviews for her work,” he says.

Zavoral went into periodontics because of her interest in surgery, as well as its capability to build relationships. “Working with patients is more of a long-term relationship than some of the other specialty fields, similar to general dentistry,” Zavoral says. “But it was really the surgical stuff that really sparked my interest.”

Zavoral has been working in the field since 2011. She received her baccalaureate in biology from Youngstown State University in 2004, then earned her doctorate in medicine in dentistry in 2008 and her certificate in periodontology in 2011 from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. In addition, she received her Master of Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health in 2009. She is a diplomate of the American Board of Periodontics.

While Zavoral is a great periodontist, her husband says she’s an even better mother to their four children: Thomas, 10, Mary, 7 and twins Matthew and Elizabeth, 3.

Balancing marriage, running a business together and four children under the age of 10 isn’t easy. But they take it day by day, Zavoral says. Working together gives them the flexibility they need to cart four kids to piano lessons and sports practice. Neither can see their life any other way.

“We’ve got four kids’ schedules that we’re juggling outside of here. He’s here a lot but we’re able to manage all the outside stuff because there’s not two of us tied to a more rigid schedule,” she says.

Being a mother is her priority. But her career is something in which she takes great pride and doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.

“It’s day by day because if you look too far ahead, it can weigh you down. But I can’t imagine it any other way now. It’s just our life. This is what we do,” she says. “I love my job and I know I’m not built to stay at home. It’s just not me. Motherhood is No. 1 but my career is extremely important to me and I worked really hard to get where I am. I’m just trying to find that balance of it all.”

Pictured at top: Jennifer and Ernie Zavoral moved back home and operate Mahoning Valley Periodontics & Dental Implants.