MOST kids don’t enjoy cutting up raw chicken in the sink to prep for dinner and imagine performing surgery, but coming from a medical family, it was normal for Dr. Tim Osborn, one of the area’s foremost craniofacial surgeons and one half of the husband-and-wife team behind Seaport Smiles.
“I grew up around operating rooms,” he says of his childhood in Minnesota, where his father worked for the Mayo Clinic and, in the days before ID badges, he and his siblings roamed the hospital halls. “It’s what we did. The seed got planted there.”
Going into the medical field was always a foregone conclusion for Tim, but college was where the direction of that interest began to take shape. After spending a few days shadowing a dentist, he decided to go to dental school after undergrad. He was already committed to that path when he watched his first live craniofacial surgery, and knew it was something he wanted to do as well. With that inspiration, he embarked on both journeys.
“That was the next 12 years of my life,” says Tim. In his studies, he learned he could combine a dental practice and facial surgery in a unique way that only a handful of others in America were doing. After beginning his work in this field, Tim also took a position at Boston University’s dental school, giving lectures about facial plastic surgery. This is where he initially crossed paths with his now-wife and business partner, Ella.
She was a student in the dental school, and the subject matter that Tim was teaching was of interest to her and all her fellow classmates.
“Nobody talked to us about that at all,” she says. “Everyone wanted to learn about Botox and fillers.” Emailing answers to the exam questions ahead of time to a large class of stressed third-year dental students, feeling they would learn the material if they really wanted to, was another move that made him popular with his students.
“I was like ‘Dr. Osborn is the man,’” said Ella. “So that was my first introduction to him. At this point, he had no idea who I was, I was just one of a sea of faces in a crowd of 100 people.” It set the tone for their next memorable interaction: Ella needed a professor to sign off on a series of procedures all fourth-year students were required to do. She approached him to explain the work she’d done, hoping to get a signature. Sitting in a large, crowded hall with no intention of getting up, Tim said “I’ll sign whatever you want, just as long as I don’t have to get out of this chair.”
Shortly after that, Ella found out Tim did rhinoplasty and septoplasty, a procedure Ella desperately needed after an injury she’d suffered as a child had progressed into adulthood and left her with a lot of difficulty breathing through her nose.
Tim had done a nose job on one of her classmates, and another student’s mother. This student was Russian, and in Russian culture, allowing a surgical procedure to be performed on someone’s mother after watching them in their trade daily is the highest praise one can bestow. Being from Estonia originally, a country that shares a border with Russia, Ella knew what a compliment that was. After previous attempts to improve her condition had only made it worse, Ella was scared to try it at all, but that persuaded her to seek him out to do the surgery.
The procedure was a success – so much so that months later, Ella found herself feeling drastically better with the ability to have a consistently quality sleep. It left her with a lot more energy, and completely changed her life.
“I became a happy, animated person. And that’s when [he] began to notice me.”
By then, Ella had graduated from being a student and had become a resident, where there was a lot of collaboration with professors during their training. Since he was a professor and a faculty member, Ella never entertained the idea of seeing Tim in a romantic way – although it was legal with them not being in the same department, which he looked into before asking her out. They bonded over her extreme level of patient care, owing to her orthodontic background.
“She was nuts,” said Tim, describing how Ella would attend consultations for her patients when she’d refer them to other practitioners as a resident, in her endless desire to learn and unwavering commitment to getting everything perfectly right.
They began to date, and went on to get engaged and married. They moved to the Seaport right before the wedding, right at the beginning of the neighborhood’s transition from parking lots and warehouses to Boston’s most desirable real estate.
“The Grand was just being built,” says Ella. “You were watching the neighborhood transform before your eyes.” Within that transformation, she saw the opportunity both in how it was being developed and the people who were moving there. It was younger professionals who cared about how they looked.
Her work in the practices of other doctors, mostly catering to children needing braces, had shown Ella that there was a demand for adults to have the same services without the chaos that comes along with an office that is kid-centric. The Osborns were certainly in the right place at the right time.
Still, building a brick-and-mortar business has its challenges every step of the way and they weren’t without their share of roadblocks to even get started.
“It was near-impossible to find a place,” says Ella of opening their location, “and it was frustrating because construction was going up everywhere.” Many long walks and countless calls and even door knocking led to eventually landing their location, which took nine months to find. When it finally opened in June of 2019, Seaport Smiles became the first specialty practitioners in the neighborhood.
It was the realization of a dream, but in many ways the challenges were just beginning. Ella had been working diligently at the practices of other orthodontists, but on her own she didn’t have an established reputation yet. Also, her hard-fought office space was on the second floor of the building, so it wasn’t visible from the ground floor.
By that time, Tim had a practice in the South End, but it didn’t take long to see the promise that the new space held for his work, too. Once again, there was a natural fit for professional collaboration. He opened a location within Ella’s office, and his reputation and track record helped gain some traction.
“Anybody who came in to see him,” said Ella, “I would ask, ‘do you need Invisalign?’” Ella’s first patient was a referral from Tim, someone who had needed jaw surgery.
“My patients were typically cosmetic, so there’s a lot of ability for crossover,” said Tim. They promoted it relentlessly, especially over social media, and took the most pride in how they treated their patients. As the Seaport grew, so did Seaport Smiles.
Being active on social media pushed Ella out of her comfort zone, and when she was still establishing herself, she had the time to really connect with her patients that way too and build trust. It wasn’t simply that she saw the opportunity, both in the neighborhood in they lived in and in adult orthodontics, but the personal touch set her apart.
“That personal interaction is how she became a rockstar,” Tim says of his wife.
Being residents of the Seaport as well, Tim and Ella often see their clients around the neighborhood while walking their dog, and are proud to count their clients as friends too. The average service time with both of their rosters of patients is a year and a half, so they get to know them all. It’s not purely a vanity standpoint that their clients care about their appearance; the affect it has on their confidence is evident. That’s why the look and feel of the office is so important to Ella – it’s a reflection of how they want to make their clients feel about how they look.
“The aesthetic says ‘here’s what we’re about, making you look and feel your best’,” said Tim. “I didn’t appreciate that at first, but I very much appreciate it now.” When they moved to a new location two years ago, Tim embraced that line of thinking and took the time to make sure his space reflected it.
“He finally accepted the fact that the service is part of the experience,” says Ella. And they know what having these services done will do for their clients. Ella had braces as a child, and once they took effect, “I literally just changed. And you can see in photos of me during that time from being serious and not smiling, to smiling.” Having been in the United States for only a few years by then, it helped her feel more connected and changed her self-esteem.
“That is what I do for other people now,” she says. They know their clients want to put their best feet forward in social situations and feel proud to change that equation for them with that confidence reflecting in so many tangible and intangible ways outwardly. People they never thought struggled with their confidence profusely thanking them for changing their lives.
What’s next for this Seaport power couple? They recently became parents to their five-month-old son, Jack. “It’s the coolest thing either of us have ever done,” says Tim. “It’s made us better practitioners. We take care of a lot of people’s kids and we have a deeper respect for that.”
Though they’ve thrown themselves into their new role as parents, they’re as passionate as ever about helping their patients.
“We welcome you and are grateful for the opportunity to change your life,” says Ella.