As a new feature, each month, we will be highlighting a different ACCPF sponsor/supporter, sharing fun and interesting background information to help you get to know the person(s) better. This month, we are featuring Jeff Nichelini, one of American Canyon’s many treasures and the owner of American Canyon Orthodontics, which he founded in January, 2014. But how he came to open a practice in AC is a journey full of some amazing twists and turns.

Jeff grew up in Yorba Linda (Orange County) California, home of former president Richard Nixon. He graduated from El Dorado High School in 2000. After high school, Jeff attended the University of California-San Diego, where he graduated in 2004 with his degree in Molecular Biology. While attending UCSD he helped found the school’s first undergraduate research journal, The Saltman Quarterly, which is still in publication–a legacy of which he is very proud. After graduating, Jeff moved back home and got a substitute teaching credential. As luck would have it, he took a long-term position at his old high school, teaching Economics and Government to students who were not much younger than him. “It was the hardest semester of my life,” Jeff says, “and the most educational. I was slapped in the face with life adult realities and it taught me that life is not always about you. It helped that the person I had the most respect for in life–Charles Titus—was still teaching there. Mr. Titus, was my track coach, English teacher, and friend, and was very influential in developing my character.”

During that time, Jeff, who ran track and cross country in high school (his best mile time was 4:46, and he clocked 16:34 for three miles), also started coaching the high jump and hurdles for his old high school. While teaching, Jeff decided to make a career move into dentistry. Spending time with his own dentist, who had been his family’s dentist for his whole like at that point, helped drive that decision. Shortly after completing his substitute assignment, Jeff moved to New York City to attend Columbia University’s College of Dental Medicine where he received his Doctorate in Dental Surgery degree. During his time there, Jeff started a dental clinic for homeless people in Harlem. But actually getting that clinic off the ground was a testament to Jeff’s tenacity and his commitment to helping others less fortunate. Until Jeff tackled the project, it had only been a goal, not a reality, for previous generations of Columbia dental students. “The roadblock was setting up the infrastructure,” Jeff commented. “There was already a medical clinic being run in a Harlem church basement, and the dental clinic was going to operate in conjunction with this medical clinic.”

husband, wife, and baby

According to Jeff, “Columbia had a dental van, which was a fully equipped rolling dental office, with a full-time driver and a dentist assigned to service the schools in northern Manhattan and the Bronx during the day. In theory, it was an ideal match, for us to use it at night for the homeless clinic. “Why can’t we just take this van down to the church and start providing dental services for the homeless?” Jeff asked. However, the driver did not want to work in the evenings, and the van, which was the size of a school bus, required a commercial driver’s license drive. “I convinced the Deans to give me permission to drive the van IF I got a commercial driver’s license. However, they thought there was zero chance of that happening, and the only way to get the license was to go through a training program, the closest of which was in West Babylon on Long Island, several hours away. I signed up for the program, and took the Long Island Railroad up from Manhattan on the weekends to West Babylon,” Jeff recalls. “It was in January-February, and it was a cold walk to the driving school from the train station,” he adds. “When I got the license and met with the Deans, I can still remember the look on their faces! Tenacity personified. So they grudgingly let me drive the van to the church, which meant after several years, the Columbia University Student Run Homeless Dental Clinic was finally in operation. Driving the van in New York City, however was incredibly nerve-racking, not just for me, but for the school because of liability,” Jeff exclaimed.

That same year, then New York Yankee’s baseball star Alex Rodriquez donated $250,000 to Columbia to purchase a new van, Jeff says, and “the faculty magically found the money to purchase dental equipment to keep on site at the clinic in the church, so I wouldn’t have to drive the van anymore.” Jeff can recall a few touching moments from that time. “One of the guys we helped had lost his front teeth. Imagine trying to get a job or doing an interview with no front teeth? No one would hire him. Our services changed that his life”

After graduating from Columbia, Jeff completed his orthodontic training in Oral and Craniofacial Sciences at the University of California-San Francisco, during which time he served as the Chief Resident of his department.

Jeff then started spending time in Napa, and his travels took him through American Canyon. He knew he wanted to start a dental practice of his own somewhere and “I felt like American Canyon was not only a place I wanted to be, but a place that could use my services,” he states. “I love the culture of American Canyon that is the result of its unique position. Given its location, you have political and geographic barriers between Napa and Vallejo, that makes American Canyon feel like its own little island, with a small-town vibe, and conveniently for me, in 2014 there was not an orthodontist working here yet.”

About that time, Jeff met his future wife, Kim, at a party in San Francisco. As it turned out, the two had a lot in common, professionally. Kim received her Doctorate in Medical Dentistry degree from Harvard and completed her residency in Pediatric Dentistry at Columbia University. Three months after their meeting, Kim moved to Napa, and although she said Jeff had nothing to do with the decision to move, “I challenge her assertion!” he laughs. Kim, who is also a runner and recently qualified to run the Boston Marathon–one of the world’s most prestigious and difficult to gain entry races. The two married in 2018, and chose the Ruins here in American Canyon for the ceremony. Last August, they welcomed into the world their new baby boy, Davin, who’s now five months old.

When not practicing dentistry, Jeff enjoys hiking, running and biking (he has completed a Century ride—100 miles in a day), and he and Kim have climbed all the major peaks in the Bay Area. They now take Davin on hikes, along with their dog, Lula. In addition to practicing orthodontics and his new parenting responsibilities, Jeff was recently named a volunteer clinical professor at the University of California-San Francisco School of Dentistry, where he will be teaching two days a month. He has maintained an assistant editorial position for the Pacific Coast Society of Orthodontist’s quarterly bulletin, and he is active in his family’s winery in St. Helena, The Nichelini Family Winery.

Jeff serves on the Board of Directors of ACCPF, and supports “everything American Canyon,” he adds. A few highlights include helping underwrite the cost of bleachers at the AC High School baseball field, providing jerseys for the AC youth football program, sponsoring the annual “Snow Day” in AC, supporting the Reindeer Run, (now in its 11th year), being a major contributor to the annual “Night at the Ruins” fundraiser for ACCPF and just about anything else he is asked to support. When asked about his goals for the future, Jeff simply states, “I’m pretty happy and content. If life stayed the same as it is now, that would be pretty good.”

Jeff Nichelini is, indeed, a champion of all things ACCPF.