Leadership from the Dentist’s Chair


When you sit down with Delta Dental of Tennessee’s president and CEO Dr. Philip Wenk, he immediately puts you at ease. His calmness and signature voice is all East Tennessee. He is proud of growing up in the small town of Clinton, about 8,000 strong. His father had the local dental practice, which Wenk would later join after graduating the University of Tennessee’s College of Dentistry.

“I loved growing up in Clinton and raising my family there. It is a great little town and we were very involved in the community – we had our kids in school there, I did the sports announcing at high school football games, and at one time, both my sister and I worked with my father in the dental practice.”

Wenk practiced dentistry there for 20 years, but after a tumor was found on his back, and a devastating car accident, he made the hard decision to stop treating patients because of physical limitations.

In 1997, Delta Dental contacted Wenk, and he made the move to Nashville to be its chief operating officer. “Delta Dental seemed like a good opportunity for me,” Wenk humbly said. “I knew I would be working with other dentists and effecting change to provide essential dental coverage to residents of our state.”

Today, Delta Dental provides dental benefits to more Tennesseans than any other company. Wenk says that is due to the personal touch and culture at Delta Dental that makes the company different from its competitors.

“Delta Dental has always provided what the customer needs, instead of what the company needs. We are different because of our patient-centric standards. We offer an intensive approach to service, and believe it’s important to take care of people.”

For the last 20 years, Wenk says Delta Dental has changed their customer’s perception of the insurance market. “Our member’s needs and their calls are priority number one. We have the technology for efficiency, but it’s our team that stands out. ”

“Oral exams are no longer just about your teeth. Dentists now look into a patient’s mouth for cancer, diseases, and other health issues. We now know that more than 150 diseases can be detected during an oral exam. Dental coverage is like wearing a seat belt – in most cases, the preventive measure is free and you hope you never have to use it, but you know you have it and it’s always protecting you.”

While Wenk’s company is selling group and individual dental coverage, they are also spending a great deal of time, resources and energy to take care of Tennesseans in need. “We know that some people will never be able to afford care, as the Affordable Care Act only covers pediatric dental care.”

Delta Dental has a long history of giving. Since 2003, they have provided more than $19.3 million in community philanthropy. In 2014, Delta Dental initiated Smile180, donating more than $5.2 million to dental clinics, dental schools, charities, hospitals, and other organizations across Tennessee. Last year, this initiative spun into the Smile180 Foundation, giving more than $1.3 million in grants.

Some may ask, why is Delta Dental helping others to this degree, and is it really the company’s responsibility to help others? Wenk compassionately answers, “Why isn’t it our responsibility? It aligns with our mission of improving the overall oral health of all Tennesseans. When we created Smile180 and met with the Insurance Board for approval, they asked us ‘why aren’t other insurance companies doing this?’”

Wenk’s philosophy is contagious. He credits his “team members” at Delta Dental, who have been voted two years in a row one of the top Corporate Giving companies in Middle Tennessee by the Nashville Business Journal – based on each employee’s gifts of time and/or donations.

“I am blessed with a strong family here. We work better together, we empower our employees and I support them and act as their sounding board.”

When Wenk isn’t working, he’s cheering on his Tennessee Volunteers, enjoys playing golf, and loves spending time with his children and grandchildren. He’s an avid volunteer in our community and serves on several boards, including Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, the Governor’s Books from Birth Foundation, and co-chair for the Music City Bowl.

Wenk says his legacy will be simple, and personally gratifying. “I believe we must treat others kindly – it’s the right thing to do. That’s what I want to be known for. ”

pictured: CEO Dr. Philip Wenk
photo courtesy of Delta Dental