The Karls Dentists

Stan Karls opened his dental practice in Waunakee in 1968. Today, his son Matt and daughter-in-law, Sarah, carry on Karls Family Dental on Second Street.

We often hear about mom and pop stores, but in Waunakee, one dental practice is also a mom and pop operation. And before that, it was a pop and son practice.

Karls Family Dental has been looking after patients’ teeth since 1968, and in 1972 Stan Karls built the office across from the Waunakee Fire Station on Second Street. He is retired today, but his son, Matt Karls with wife Sarah Karls are carrying on the practice Stan started in Waunakee.

Stan Karls was born in the home kitty-corner to the office, on the dining room table, he said. He served in Vietnam and met his wife, who is from Vietnam, there. When he came home, he decided to practice in Waunakee near UW-Madison because he wanted his wife to have access to an education, he said.

Karls opened his first office on South Street in what had been Lenny’s Tavern. It was difficult to remove the odor of beer and smoke from the building, he said. He then bought the land for the current building from Dave O’Malley and his sister, Mary Jordan.

“There was no space to rent in Waunakee, and that space was too small,” Stan said about the South Street office.

At that time, the Village Mall on S. Century Avenue had not yet been built, and Stan’s father asked why he had built an office so far from town.

“When I came to town, there was one dentist in town, Dr. Bakke,” Stan Karls said. “At that time, I even visited with him and we got to be good friends, and I asked if it was OK if I set up practice here.”

His son, Matt, joined the practice eight years ago after graduating in 2009 and then completing his residency. Sarah Karls was a year behind Matt in dental school, and after she completed her residency, she joined the practice.

Stan had reached the 50th year of his career, and said he thought that was enough time. Besides, he said, another associate had joined the practice.

Now retired, Stan said he misses the staff very much and the patients, too.

“We got to be really good friends,” he said.

And according to Matt, the patients miss Stan, and often say, “Say hi to your dad.”

Stan said with the coronavirus pandemic, he doesn’t visit the office as often.

As Matt and Sarah were in college taking some advanced science course together to prepare for dental school, they realized they had more in common than just their academic pursuits. Both of their fathers attended Marquette University’s School of Dentistry together. For Sarah, dentistry may run in the blood. Not only was her father a dentist, but her mother was a dental hygienist, and her grandfather on her mother’s side was also a dentist. Both Matt and Sarah graduated from Marquette Dental School as well.

Matt enjoyed working with his father, he said.

“You were a good mentor with the dentistry and the business side of it,” Matt said to his father.

“I don’t think we ever had an argument,” Stan replied.

Matt and Sarah both say working together is fun and they get to spend more time together. The couple have two children, Annorah Grace, age 6, and Frederick Stanley, age 3.

Both Sarah and Matt expressed their appreciation for the staff, and how well they get along as a team. Stan added the practice has been blessed with the staff over the years.

Whether dentistry will carry on to the next Karls generation remains to be seen.

Annorah talks a lot about the field and wants to see pictures of cavities, and during quarantine after the COVID-19 outbreak in March, Matt and Sarah spent time watching continuing education dentist videos with Annorah watching along, they said.

Matt said he began to think about becoming a dentist when he had jaw surgery at the age of 19.

Sarah said as a high school sophomore, she wrote a paper on dentistry for her chemistry class with her father’s help, and that’s when she knew.

The couple now plans to expand the office, mainly to make it more accessible. Currently, steps lead up to the entrance facing the fire station. Very little parking is available on-street.

The new space will offer an entry level parking lot and more accessible entry to the rear of the building.

“In light of COVID, the waiting space will be much more sizable, so we’ll be able to socially distance a lot better,” Sarah said.

They said the planning process took two years, and the new office will be much larger. The goal is to have the renovations completed by summer of 2021. While they would have space for another dentist, Sarah said they don’t plan to add one.

Although the building is becoming bigger, the practice will stay the same, she said.

“We pride ourselves on being a very family friendly oriented practice,” Sarah said.

“The pipe dream is to have a child come in,” Matt added.

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