A Dentist and a Friend

Most dentists will tell you they did not get into dentistry for the money. Although you may find some procedures to be very costly, it usually doesn’t translate into big profits. Your teeth are easy to ignore when cash is tight. Instead of going for monthly cleanings, you probably will only go to the dentist if you’re in pain. As a result, bad economic times hit dentist quickly and can destroy a dentist’s practice.

Like most of us, I’ve been through my fair share of dentists. Back around 2003, a good friend of mine recommended a dentist, Dr. William Tessler, a.k.a Billy. I first met Billy in the midst of a tooth gone very bad. I was certain that the tooth needed to be extracted. Billy was uncomfortable removing the tooth, so we did a root canal which ended up saving the tooth.

Dr. Tessler was somewhere in his 60s when I met him and working a full time schedule. As I looked around his office I noticed pictures of him from his youth. Billy had passed a good portion of his life in North Miami Beach, a town my father had also enjoyed. It didn’t take long for me to change Billy’s place in my mind from dentist to friend, and later to mentor. Our mutual interest in dentistry and shared common values made for a great experience every visit.

Around a year or so after becoming Billy’s patient, I ran into a problem with a tooth at 3am. I was in such extreme pain that I had no choice but to call him at home. I was hoping that Billy would call in something for pain and was surprised when he said “meet me at the office”. When I arrived at the office I was even more surprised when Billy showed up with his wife to assist him. Billy worked on that tooth until 6am, at which point he went home for 2 hours sleep so he could make it back for his 9am appointment.

While my first experience with a bad tooth led to a root canal, this was not the norm. Root canals were done only after every other attempt was exhausted to repair the tooth. Billy demonstrated to me that his goal was not to run up a big bill, quite the contrary. Billy understood that a two-thousand dollar root canal and crown changes most people’s economic status for at least a month or two. He also knew that the end result could be putting off necessary visits including cleanings. Bottom line, he was a genuine doctor who always did what was in the best interest of the patient.

I can remember many times that a patient would show up with no money. I never saw Billy turn away a patient in pain. I learned a lot from Dr. Tessler. He taught me a lot about dentistry and life in general. Here are some of the things that I would recommend to anyone who’s shopping for a dentist:

– Ask the dentist if he or she will take the time to explain recommended procedures in a language that you can understand. Many doctors get offended when you question their diagnosis.

– Is the doctor accessible after hours? Does the doctor have an answering service?

– Will the doctor work with you in times of crisis? We all have rough times, and irreplaceable teeth can be lost during those times.

– What options are available for pain management? Many doctors will not prescribe narcotics for many reasons. Make sure that you’re doctor’s policies will not result in you being in pain. Nitrous oxide is a great tool for making a patient comfortable but can not be used if there are any pregnant employees at the practice.

– Make sure you and the doctor see eye to eye. There should be some chemistry. Your dentist will be spending a great deal of time inside your mouth and has total control of your smile.

Billy once told me that it takes a special mind to deal with all of your patients being in a “silent scream”.

I hope that all who read this article have the blessing of finding a dentist like Dr. Tessler.

Dr. Billy Tessler passed away back in 2007. I hadn’t seen him for almost two years since I have been living offshore. It was a great shock to hear that Billy was no longer there, both as a dentist and more importantly as a friend. I take a piece of Billy with me everywhere in the form of goodwill. I want to share my condolences with his family and hope that many of his patients stumble on this short story. Billy is a great man who deserves to be remembered.