DENTISTS, rather than being eulogized, usually get treated more like Groucho Marx’s friend whom he introduced at party by saying, “This is Dr. Johnson. Don’t get up; he’s only a dentist.”
But then most people don’t have a dentist like George Baxter.
I first went to Dr. Baxter in 1960 when the Coast Guard told me that I needed some work done before they would let me into Officer Candidate School. As it turned out, my Achilles’ heel was in my mouth and I would spend more time over the next 47 years at Dr. Baxter’s than at all other medical offices combined.
My first hint that I had picked the right dentist was when I went to the Naval medical center in Newport, RI, for a checkup. The dentist looked inside my jaw and said, “Do you mind if I bring the Captain in to look at your teeth? This is really good work.”
I had had a few captains in my face before, but never staring directly into my mouth – a prospect that clearly pleased him as he praised the dentistry.
Over the years I would find myself shrugging off the prospects of yet another dental appointment by anticipating the enjoyment of what non-medical matters Dr. Baxter would address that day. These varied from jokes, to reminiscences of patients, to tales of medical school, to a pseudo diagnosis such as “Hmm. . . a non-pathological, non-invasive, idiosyncratic intrusion on the upper molar,” i.e. a bit of food left over from lunch.
I would join in the conversations and the jokes that would often continue until an assistant walked into the room and behind my back held up a written note for Dr. Baxter to scan. Although I couldn’t see the notes, I strongly suspected they said something such as, “Doctor, please remember you have some other patients” at which point Dr. Baxter would begin to sound like a radio announcer trying to wind up his show before the noon break.
Over the years, these other patients included a lady who once asked him when she had first come to his office. He looked up the record and told her. She was disconcerted, noting that she hadn’t even ever been married that long, and then never came back. Another patient was so aged that he only wanted a temporary crown as he expected to die shortly. For year after year he returned every six months as his mortality failed to fulfill his expectations.
About fifteen years ago, another dentist joined the office and while not as garrulous or funny, certainly maintained the level of care and skill that Dr. Baxter had set. Which is not surprising since this dentist had plenty of opportunity to learn from the superb Dr. Baxter.
Dr. George Baxter recently sent his patients a note saying he was ending 50 years of dentistry. All but three of them included me as a patient and while this is the sad end of a happy chapter, it is not the end of the story.
You see, the other dentist in the officer is called Dr. Barbara to differentiate her from her father, Dr. George. And I am due for an appointment in the fall.