Why I became a Dentist – By Dr. John
As a young boy growing up in a small town in northern New Jersey, at 11 years old, I decided I wanted to be a dentist. Crazy, I know, but here was my rationale-
As a kid, I frequently battled strep throat. In the old days (from where I come!) we didn’t immediately go to the doctor with every little sniffle or complaint. You had to be pretty sick for at least 2 -3 days before mom gave in and made an appointment. So, at 11 years old we found ourselves in Dr. Cavanaugh’s large waiting room with about 20 -25 people and it was fairly late – about 9pm.
I had mixed emotions about visiting the Doctor with strep…..I knew I was going to be better almost instantly, because I was going to get a shot of penicillin. That’s the positive part. But I was going to get the shot in my butt….. The shot part wasn’t the problem; I knew it was the nurse that was going to give me the shot and I hated that a female was going to see my naked butt !
I asked Dr. C what time he was going home. He said, “When all of those people in the waiting room are taken care of.” I then asked him what time he started that day, to which he responded, “Rounds in the hospital start about 6am.” Now, I was only 11 but I quickly understood that this was a long day! 15 hours PLUS long !
This was important to me because my mom wanted me to become a Doctor. I did well in school, found math and science more fun than work, and was extremely competitive. I played lots of sports and, while always the shortest kid on the team, I was more intensely competitive than anyone. That competiveness and societal beliefs at the time (being a Doctor was top of the food chain, so to speak) meant I agreed with Mom, and I was going to be a Doctor.
Sometime after getting that shot in my butt, the family had our regular dental check-ups. We went to Dr. Levine, who was the first dentist in my town, and he was old even then. He was a gentle man, and his office always had an aroma of mint from the prophy paste. We were lucky and had relatively good teeth and didn’t have any horrible experiences that I heard about years later as a dentist. Whenever we were there, Dr L. whistled the whole time. I thought that meant he was really enjoying what he was doing. Besides the fact that his waiting room had “Highlights’ magazines, if we were well behaved, Dr. L would open a drawer in his desk and let you pick a special toy or nick knack as a prize.
That was the clincher- I was going to be a dentist!!
At 17, my dad had a severe heart attack and required a triple bypass. This was long ago and they had to take the bone saw to his sternum. We were fortunate that he recovered and was able to spend another 20 years with us. To his last day, he would occasionally stretch in the morning or reach for something up high and wince in pain as one of the wires holding his rib cage together caught on something internal. My Mom would regularly nudge me to shift my aspirations to Cardiology because of dad’s experience.
But, No!, the decision was made I was firmly committed to dentistry- 15 PLUS hours per day and nurses seeing little boys naked butts OR wonderful mint smell, whistling dentist, toys for good behavior and Highlights magazine…Dentist all the way !
I was fortunate to get accepted to dental school and when I graduated, Dr. L invited me to lunch. He was still working but had cut back on his schedule. Dr. L asked if I might be interested in renting his office on the days he was not working. How lucky could I have been?
Later, during lunch, Dr L asked why I decided on dentistry. I explained that it was because I was so impressed with my experiences with him, and his office. Particularly that he seemed to enjoy his work so much and had ‘normal’ hours. Dr L chuckled. He said, “I only whistle when I am treating children because I am particularly uncomfortable with kids. It’s a nervous habit. And when you came to me I was already well established in town, but when I first started, I worked 4 nights a week till at least 9 pm and every Saturday until at least 2pm.”
We both laughed, but never have I seen a Highlights magazine or smelled mint in an MD’s office!
So glad I chose dentistry!