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The Dentones of UTHSC Make Beautiful Music Together

Most of the time, the members of The Dentones are focused on dentistry, but when they take to the stage, it’s all about the music. Jamming at The Bluff on Highland are, left to right, Dr. Tony Wicks, Dr. Mark Anderson, Mike Estivo (drums), Dr. Vernon Pennington, Tim Lanier, Dr. Jay Ragain, Dr. David Umsted.

Three decades separate some of the members of one Memphis band, but when they’re on the stage together, you’d never know it.

“There’s definitely no age gap when we are onstage,” said Mike Estivo, the band’s 31-year-old drummer.

And it’s safe to say that more than age dissolves when The Dentones are rocking. Estivo is a fourth-year dental student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Most of his bandmates are his professors.

They came together in the summer of 2016 in response to an invitation to play at a dental fraternity charity fund-raiser. They’ve stayed together because they’re having a blast.

“It’s been remarkable to be able to connect with these guys on a whole different level,” Estivo said. “I think we’ve bonded over music. I’ve become great friends with a lot of them, and I think it’s been a great experience to kind of take out some of the tension of dental school as well.”

The feeling is mutual, according to Jay Ragain, DDS, MS, PhD, who handles bass guitar and vocals as a Dentone and is the interim chair of the Department of General Practice Dentistry in the College of Dentistry at UTHSC.

“It’s great,” said Dr. Ragain, 64. “We have this Dentone persona, which is totally different than our day jobs. You get to go up there and act a little bit, dress up, and just kind of let yourself go.”

In addition to Estivo and Dr. Ragain, The Dentones include Tony Wicks, DDS, MS, 64, chair of the Department of Prosthodontics, vocals and percussion; Tim Lanier, 51, assistant vice chancellor for Alumni Affairs, rhythm guitar and vocals; David Umsted, DDS, 65, associate professor in the Department of Prosthodontics, lead guitar; Mark Anderson, DDS, 55, interim chair of the Department of  Diagnostic Sciences and Oral Medicine, lead guitar; Vernon Pennington, DDS, 65, assistant professor in the Department of General Practice Dentistry, keyboards and group leader.

This band is not without a music pedigree. Dr. Umsted has been in many bands and is currently in a successful local one called Pearl. Estivo spent several years as a professional drummer in California before deciding that was not a forever career and heading to dental school. Dr. Anderson is an accomplished blues guitarist. All have been involved in music one way or another throughout their lives, though for most, real life and dentistry pushed music to the back burner.

“There are quite a few dentists who do play instruments or have played instruments in the past,” Dr. Ragain said. “What happens is, they spend so much time in school and they get busy doing their practice and they kind of leave it behind. But I know several faculty members here who play in orchestras. We could probably put a mega-band together if we wanted to.”

The members of this band had talked individually from time to time about playing together, but it wasn’t until the fund-raiser in January 2017 and Estivo’s encouragement that the group coalesced.

They met for the first time in the music room at Dr. Ragain’s house. Each proposed some songs, and they got to work.

“Everybody really just stepped up and once we had the set list, everybody really was so excited about it that we put our own efforts into it individually, so when we went to practice, everybody knew what was going on and it was just really fun to play,” Estivo said.

Rock and Rollers, The Dentones cover songs from the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Led Zeppelin, The Yardbirds, ’60s and ’70s hits, some of which the students might not even recognize.

But no worries, it takes only a few minutes to break the ice, before the dancing begins.

“The students absolutely love seeing them play,” Estivo said. “They get to see a different side of the professors, instead of just the dental side. They get to see a whole kind of new aspect to them that they may or may not have known existed.”

The first fund-raiser at Young Avenue Deli was a big success. “They said, ‘you can come back anytime,’ ” Dr. Ragain said.

This year, the band rocked the house again at the January fund-raiser at The Bluff on Highland with eight new songs. Again, they were invited back.

“We have a great time,” said Alumni Affairs’ Tim Lanier, right, shown here with drummer Mike Estivo.

But The Dentones are not consumed with making a name for themselves, even though they rehearse regularly and are open to any gigs that come their way. They march to a different drummer.

“Plain and simple, it is just a lot of fun to be a part of The Dentones,” Lanier said. “Whether we are rehearsing or performing, we have a great time.”

Right now, they’re practicing for a graduation party at The Bluff on May 17 that will be a send-off for the Dentistry class of 2018. It will be Estivo’s last time with the group. He is moving to Kansas City, Missouri, to start his practice.

“They’ve threatened many a time to hold me back, so I can stick around and play drums with them,” he joked. He promised he’ll come back for next year’s fund-raiser.

And so, The Dentones are recruiting.

“I was talking to second-year students and said, ‘our drummer’s graduating and we’re going to be searching for a drummer,’ ” Dr. Ragain said. “Everyone pointed at this girl. She said, ‘My people will talk to your people.’ ”