Dr. Richard Bach, a beloved orthodontist whose work has improved the smiles of more than 12,000 East End residents over the course of his 42-year career, will be the guest of honor at a retirement party next weekend in Westhampton.
Partner in a still-booming practice in Riverhead — Bach-Grazina East End Orthodontics — Bach has what at first glance may seem like contradictory talents — orthodontics and music — but somehow, or maybe because of his tireless joie de vivre, it all comes together seamlessly.
Whether taking care of his patients, lecturing at universities around the country, writing country music songs, traveling to Nashville and Florida on weekends, enjoying family time with his three daughters and eight grandchildren, playing a myriad of sports and instruments, or being civically involved in – and even founding – several community organizations, Bach is like the little engine that could. He has a special kind of tenacity, smarts and curiosity that have put the wind in his sails for over six decades.
“I don’t sleep more than six hours – my mind is always going,” said Bach, 69. “That’s just the way I am. I know, I have a very active mind.”
His “active mind” has allowed him to pursue two very different and very successful careers, music and orthodontics, all while giving back to his community. Over the years, he has served as the president of the Riverhead Rotary Club, vice president of the East Quogue UFSD board of education, a member of the business advisory board at Suffolk County National Bank and treasurer at the New York State Marine Mammal-Sea Turtle Rescue program.
As a musician, he played guitar and bass in the ’60s with rock groups “The Dunes” and “The Driftwoods.” He also wrote, arranged and produced radio commercials for many years, which his wife said “helped with the bills” and then went on to write country songs in the ’80s. His hit song “She’s taken a shine,” interpreted by John Berry, topped the country Billboard charts and earned him an ASCAP award.
“Music is his heart and soul,” said Teresa Sperl, his wife of 47 years.
Victor Grazina – Bach’s partner since 2011 who is carrying on the team’s practice in Riverhead – said Bach has done a lot for the profession. In addition to lecturing across the country, Bach was a clinical assistant professor at Stony Brook University and a featured speaker at the first-ever National Invisalign Summit.
“He’s super-innovative and accepting of new stuff that can improve the quality of patient care. He’s an unrecognized talent,” Grazina said.
Bach said although he usually kept apart his music world from his orthodontics world, the two have a lot in common.
“Orthodontics is very artistic to me. You have to know how to balance aesthetic and function,” he said.
His intellectual versatility, said Grazina— who enjoys a great relationship with Bach and whom he shares his passion for orthodontics and community work— made him unique in a non-conformist kind of way.
Grazina recalled how in 2009 Bach invited him to spend a day with him. While treating a patient, the patient asked if Bach was mentoring Grazina, to which Bach said no and Grazina said yes.
“We looked at each other kind of oddly,” Grazina said. “I felt it was a clear mentorship, me learning from him, but he saw it as cross-mentoring. He felt he was also learning from me, this young doctor, and that is the moment where everything clicked.”
He has an unusual willingness to reinvent himself and learn new techniques and methods beneficial to patients.
“He must have been in his late 50s when he switched to the kind of braces we’re using today, the Damon system braces. It can be a pretty difficult thing to learn,” Grazina said.
“He switched everything that he was doing, the entire philosophy behind the practice. You don’t see that very often. We have a hard time getting young doctors to learn the system that we use, and here was an older doctor who was doing well, but he knew that there was something better out there and he took the time to go and learn it. That really impressed me,” he said.
Sperl said Bach’s high intelligence makes him recognize things instantly and solve problems very quickly. She said he’s also very sensitive and caring and is committed to always doing the right thing.
“He doesn’t see the world the same way as we do,” Sperl said. “It’s like if you wear glasses and you were talking to someone who’s never had seen what it’s like to see the world without glasses. He’s always been like that.”
Born in 1948 in the Bronx, Bach is the grandson of a well-known Austrian musician and instrument-maker. He is the second of five children.
“Everybody was pretty musical. We could all sing and play instruments. I took trumpet from the time I was four years old and my brother took trombone,” he said.
His uncle, Hans Vincent Bach, was the founder and owner of one of the best brass instrument companies in the music world, making high quality trumpets and trombones.
“My uncle was our teacher and he came and gave us lessons,” Bach recalled with obvious affection.
The Vincent Bach Corporation, his uncle’s company, was sold to Conn-Selmer, an American band and orchestra company, in 1961 and is still considered one of the premier brands for brass instruments. Bach said he still has trumpets his uncle made and is planning on giving them out to his grandchildren.
“It is incredible to see his talent’s now manifest in our grandchildren,” said Terri Bach.
His mother, of Irish descent, was an energetic woman who also sang and danced and had once dreamt of being a Rockette, but couldn’t because she was too short, said Bach.
His father decided to strike out on his own and instead of going into the family business he became an engineer, working for 7-Up and other companies.
His family moved to different Nassau hamlets when he was still a school-age child, finally settling on Floral Park, where he grew up. He graduated from an all-boys high school in Mineola. There he sang and started playing guitar. He went to seminary school for two years.
“As the oldest son of an Irish Catholic mother that’s what you did. It was a good thing and had a big effect on me,” he said.
He then went on to St. John’s University, where he graduated in three years. He was immediately accepted to Columbia University dental school, where he graduated early and with honors in 1974.
“I had always wanted to go to medical school, but I didn’t want people dying on me, so when a family friend who was an orthodontist suggested dental school I decided to pursue it,” he said.
If graduating as an orthodontist by age 25 wasn’t impressive enough, he was also playing in cafes in New York and Philadelphia, where he met and hang out with folk music legends such as Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton.
He said he decided to come to Riverhead because he had always wanted to practice in a rural area. He decided to join with Dr. Rogers, his former partner, after they had hit it off at Columbia where Rogers did some guest lecturing.
“When you practice in a small town you better do a good job because you will see your patients everywhere in town,” he said.
Bach said retirement has hit him hard, especially because he wasn’t ready, but he was forced to do so because of medical reasons—he had carpal tunnel and trigger fingers—and even after surgery he had some numbness and pain in his fingers and couldn’t treat patients.
“My favorite things are orthodontics and guitar playing, and even golf, but now I can’t do that and it’s very tough,” he said.
But, once again, Bach is reinventing himself.
He has switched the guitar for the bass and has joined a club called JL Cares in Jupiter, Florida, where he plans to do some community work. And as for his upcoming retirement party, the ever-humble Bach says he doesn’t want any big deals.
“I just want to see people, I’d really like that and say hello, shake hands and smile, that’s all,” he said.
His patients and friends, past and present, will have an opportunity to honor him and his career at a special retirement party, roast and movie event on September 30 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at Hampton Arts Cinema in Westhampton.
“He really is a wonderful person,” said Patti Hautsch, a dental hygienist who has worked with Bach for more than 20 years. “He cares about everybody. He cares about his patients and about his team, about the community and about his family. We wanted to celebrate his time as an orthodontist and let him go with a party.”