Judy's 90-year-old mother, Esther, had fallen and broken her hip. During her hospital stay, Esther's upper false teeth had been lost. On a snowy December morning, Judy telephoned our office manager, Adrienne, and inquired, "Does the dentist make house calls?"
That winter was the worst on record - 14 snowstorms in all. While our office is wheelchair accessible, with all the snow it just wasn't possible for Esther to come in. Frail and weak from her hospital stay, the old woman was withering away since she couldn't eat properly without her teeth.
Adrienne listened carefully as Judy described the problem and provided the necessary details for me to decide on a course of action. Adrienne promised to get back to Judy by the end of the day. The request for a house call was something new for me. Although I had never done one before, I was willing to study the details to see if it would be possible.
I sat down and thought about Esther. Could I possibly be of help? In my mind, I began to develop a step-by-step plan to make her a full upper denture. For the proper preparation of such an appliance, five appointments plus one or two additional visits for adjustments are required. Certainly, the technical aspects of a home visit could be accomplished. Material for impressions can be mixed anywhere; I could use a small butane torch for setting the teeth and recording a bite; and I had a portable electric lathe that would be perfect for the inevitable adjustments.
Adrienne called Judy to arrange the consultation visit at Esther's home. It was cold and snowing the day Adrienne and I stopped by. Esther's live-in aide, Dolly, opened the door and led us into the warm kitchen where Judy greeted us. Esther sat quietly by the stove, slumped in her wheelchair. The old woman looked extremely thin and frail, but that didn't interfere with her hospitality. As soon as the introductions were completed, she offered us a platter of Dolly's homemade chocolate chip cookies. She also explained that she couldn't eat any herself because the chips were too hard for her gums. While Esther spoke, she held a hand over her mouth to obscure the fact she had no teeth.
I continued the conversation by saying, "It's nice to meet you all ... especially you, Esther. You're lucky to have a daughter like Judy; she's very concerned for you. Now let me explain how we're going to make your new teeth right here in the kitchen." Judy had a few questions: "Will it hurt my mom? How many visits will the process take? Can I be of any help?" Adrienne and I reassured everyone there would be little or no discomfort.
I asked Esther if she was prepared to see me twice a week. "Heck, yes!" she shouted, "Every day, if you like." We all laughed, and I started making the preliminary impression then and there. Adrienne and I made two house calls each week - on Monday and Thursday - working through our office lunch hour to help Esther.
My lab was very responsive and expedited every step in the case. It was a joy to watch Esther perk up a bit more each time we visited. Finally, the day came to deliver her new teeth. No longer slumped down, Esther demonstrated her best wheelchair posture, back ramrod straight with hands folded in her lap, while I fitted the new teeth. Judy and Dolly were very pleased with Esther's new smile.
"They look so natural," commented her daughter. Esther chimed in, "Where are those chocolate chip cookies? I've been dying to have some ever since I got back from the hospital."
After that, I returned to the house two more times for adjustments. With her new denture, Esther looked like a different person. She became perky, loved to chitchat and, when she spoke, her hand no longer covered her mouth.
When spring rolled around, the office received a lovely letter from Judy. Adrienne opened it and left the message on my desk.
Dear Dr. Novick and Adrienne,
I have always been afraid of going to the dentist. Well, all doctors really, but especially the dentist. My mom always brought us there when we were kids because she did not want us to lose our teeth the way she had. My mom really liked you, Dr. Novick. She said you were kind to her. She could tell that you really cared, and that you were a patient man.
My mom passed away recently, but she loved those teeth you made for her. She always said that, thanks to you, she could eat well. Your kindness and hard work gave her a better quality of life for her last months. Thank you.
I put the letter down and made a mental note to send Judy a card. A part of me felt sad, while some other part felt really good. It was - and continues to be - a blessing to know that a dentist can make a difference in the world by helping just one person.
"One Winter" was written by Steven Novick, DDS. EXTRAS are great Chicken Soup for the Dental Soul stories edited by co-author and keynote speaker, Don Dible, for which there simply wasn't enough room in the book. Not sold in stores, Chicken Soup for the Dental Soul is available by phone toll-free at (800) 247-6553 or by mail from DMD House, 1250 Oakmead Parkway, Suite 210, Sunnyvale, CA 94085 for $12.95 plus $4 shipping. Quantity discounts available. You may contact Don Dible at firstname.lastname@example.org.