Game Time

Game Time

Two graduates find working with professional athletes rewarding

By Adam Klinker

When it comes to serving the community and honing one’s craft, it’s best to be where the action is.

Two Creighton University School of Dentistry alumni — Michael Zacher, DDS’91, and Jared Mosley, DDS’06 — have found that place to be on the sidelines for their local youth and professional sports teams. Both practitioners have found sports dentistry a rewarding pursuit — Zacher with the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals and Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks in his hometown of Phoenix, and Mosley with the Triple-A baseball Fresno Grizzlies.

Both Mosley and Zacher say a major part of keeping athletes’ bodies functioning at their peak is making sure their teeth and mouths are healthy and protected. And what they’ve learned in the field has made its way into treatment in the clinic.

It’s all part of what they learned and continue to learn as dentists molded in the Creighton way.

Mike Zacher, DDS’91

When Chris Iannetta took a 93-mph fastball to the mouth in 2017, Mike Zacher, DDS’91, got an urgent phone call about the then-Arizona Diamondbacks catcher’s teeth.

A plastic surgeon ended up performing an all-night operation on Iannetta and first thing in the morning, the catcher was in Zacher’s dentist chair for veneers to repair the damage.

“It was first thing in the morning and it was intense,” Zacher recalls. “You don’t want to get hit in the mouth the way he got hit in the mouth, but we got him ready to go and his career continues.”

It’s all in a season’s work for Zacher, who, as the team dentist for the D-backs and the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals, watches the season change from baseball to football in his Phoenix practice.

Zacher was first approached to apply for the Cardinals job in 2014, when the team’s physician  let him know the previous dentist was retiring. A year after getting the Cardinals job, Zacher and his practice were performing so well that, when the team dentist of the Diamondbacks stepped down due to illness, the MLB team approached wondering if he’d be willing to take on another franchise.

“All the things I learned at Creighton came into play,” he says. “Honesty, trustworthiness, a conservative approach to care — those are the things we pride ourselves on.”

Zacher sees Cardinals and D-backs players and staff routinely throughout the year. In season, the NFL stipulates the home-team dentist is on the sidelines for those contests, available for both teams, and he’s usually in the stands at least once a homestand during the baseball season.

A central job with the football team is the creation of mouthguards, the use of which Zacher preaches ardently. The little piece of protective gear is not only crucial for safeguarding teeth, but it also helps mitigate concussions and other potential injuries.

“Studies say that you can reduce concussions, jaw fractures and tooth damage by 85 percent with a mouthguard. Not everyone will wear it, but you’re starting to see more and more guys recognize that this is important.”

In baseball, something similar happened after Iannetta’s injury. The extended earpieces on batting helmets have become a more prominent feature for many big-leaguers. Zacher says a push by MLB dentists also includes more awareness and proactive work in cutting down on the use of chewing tobacco, one of the main causes of oral cancers.

Zacher, who also has more than a quarter of a century in volunteer coaching youth sports, says he’s been blessed to get the sports opportunities, pointing to the education and mentorship he received at Creighton. Toward that end, Zacher has also taken on mentorship of three dental students and counsels younger people with an interest in dentistry. He and a classmate, Steve Nikodem, DDS’91, have made a donation to name an operatory at the new School of Dentistry building at Creighton after one of their mentors, Thomas Cavel, DDS’70, a professor who has spent nearly half a century training Creighton dentists.

“Dr. Cavel is one of those people who did the right thing, the right way, and passed that on,” Zacher says. “It’s not just how skilled you are with the drill. It’s how you treat people.”

Jared Mosley, DDS’06

Jared Mosley, DDS’06, cut his teeth in sports dentistry in the place where you’re most likely to lose the pearly whites.

“I started rinkside at hockey games,” Mosley says. “I had always wanted to get involved in learning about trauma, and the training at Creighton had put me in a position where I could do that through athletics and give back to the community in that way. If a kid comes in, he’s fallen off a skateboard, split his lip and has loose teeth, you can help in that situation. The sports world is where that happens fairly regularly.”

Starting out in a small practice in Fresno, California, Mosley started calling around to the region’s local high school and minor-league teams. The city is home to the Fresno Grizzlies, the Triple-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants from 1998 to 2014, the Houston Astros from 2015 to 2018, and currently, the Washington Nationals. It’s there that Mosley eventually landed after he inquired about the team’s dental needs in 2011.

“They had a physician, an orthopedist, a physical therapist,” he says. “So I asked the owner, ‘Maybe you need a dentist?’ A lot of what goes on in the mouth affects the body. If a guy’s teeth hurt, he’s got an abscess, it’s hard to ignore that. So the owner told me to come on board.”

Mosley has traveled to spring training for several years and keeps in regular contact with players whom he saw during their time in Fresno, be they Giants or Astros. Approaching nearly a decade with the Grizzlies and given the nature of baseball business, Mosley thinks he’s had at least one patient appear on every Major League team.

Moreover, though the Giants moved their Triple-A operation to Sacramento, Mosley will still occasionally see players in his chair who are back in Fresno for a series with the Grizzlies and want to see their old dentist.

“I really feel we’ve done it right that way,” he says. “The Creighton way is to treat people right and show the relevance and importance of dentistry across the medical spectrum, to all your patients.”

Both the Giants and Astros franchises have been golden in the time that Mosley has served them. The Giants won World Series championships in 2012 and 2014, and the Astros claimed the crown in 2017. The Grizzlies also won the Triple-A National Championship in 2015, and Mosley’s role with the team earned him a coveted piece of jewelry, a championship ring.

When Houston had its World Series rings struck after their win, Mosley got a call. It was the franchise’s first Series win, and the Astros were determined to celebrate it right.

“I was on a treadmill at the gym when I got the call,” he says. “They told me they’re going to give me a World Series ring and I just started screaming. It was an affirmation that dentistry is an integral part of performance.”

Mosley also spreads the message and his work at the high school level, where he’s often found on the sidelines during games. He crafts thousands of mouthguards each year for high school athletes and he also helps mentor students interested in making dentistry a career.

“That’s just the kind of place that Creighton was,” he says. “You saw other students, your professors, serving the community wherever and whenever they could. You’re always on call to help. You’re always in motion.”