Because some tortures are physical and some are mental,
But the one that is both is dental.
– Ogden Nash
In 2002, I came to the USA not just with hopes and dreams but also with a toothache. You see, just before I came, a dentist had botched-up job working on my tooth, leaving me in more pain than before. After arriving in the US, an acquaintance referred us to The Phass Family Dentistry in Skyline towers.
As I waited in the dentists room, “Hello there”, a cheery voice greeted us, “I’m Dr. Dean Phass”. I had a friendly dentist through my school days, but hadn’t encountered this level of cheer. The fact that he was so cheerful brightened the atmosphere instantly. He proceeded to examine me and gave me the bad news, that I needed a root canal and a crown. Now, I was no stranger to root canals, or the dentists office. In fact, my history with the dentist’s chair begins from the time I was 2 years old, when my parents got my teeth straightened (Thank You, Mom and Dad, by the way). It turned out that a root canal, as well as the crown that follows the procedure, are very expensive in the United States. “Dental work in the US is expensive”, Dr. Phass conceded. My Dad kindly agreed to pay for this, so I went ahead and got this done.
I visited Dr. Phass for a few more fillings the next few years. He was the same cheerful self every single time. I was actually looking forward to visiting the dentist’s office! To make things better, the dental assistant, Lauren, who helped Dr. Phass out, was equally cheerful, so much so that I don’t ever remember seeing her with a smile on her face. Dr. Phass introduced me to flossing (so much so that my brother called it a new hobby of mine), strongly disapproved of my penchant for Mountain Dew (I was so naive that I didn’t know about the sugar contents in Mountain Dew and that it could damage my teeth).
In 2004, I decided that commuting an hour and a half to College Park is getting too tedious, and rented an apartment together with a friend near campus. At a bridge tournament, one of the snacks cracked open a tooth, and I needed to see a dentist. A friend recommended a dentist close to campus, and he was the opposite of Dr. Phass – I don’t think either he or any of his staff ever smiled. He recommended an implant, which seemed daunting to me. I took the long trip to Dr. Phass’s office, and he said that I didn’t need an implant, a crown would suffice. After that, I made up my mind to visit Dr. Phass regardless of how long of a commute I had (I eventually saw another dentist when I moved to Chennai, but I seriously considered budgeting money to visit Dr. Phass for my dental expenses).
When I am in the dentist’s chair, I can’t do much of the talking. Dr. Phass did a lot of talking. He would tell me of how his father instilled a stellar work ethic in him. He would tell me how all his friends would be partying in dental school, but he would be burning the midnight oil at the library. At one point, Dr. Phass suggested that I go to dental school! I considered it, but that didn’t seem to be my thing.
When I was coming back to India, I got Lauren some gourmet chocolates as a parting gift. Her colleague, another dental assistant, was disappointed that Lauren was getting a gift and she wasn’t. Large-hearted as ever, Lauren immediately exclaimed “Oh, we’ll share this!” And when I came back to India, when I had a few doubts, I emailed my x-rays to Dr. Phass and he was happy to tell me what I should do. I chipped one of the crowns that he had affixed by biting on an almond; Dr. Phass told me that the porcelain inside is actual tooth, and that I can live with the chipped tooth if it is not too uncomfortable.
Though I had occasion only to interact with Dr. Dean, I have no doubt that his sister Dr. Sophia Phass and their colleague Dr. Theresa Shannon are as warm as Dr. Dean, and I’m sure other staff are as lovely as Lauren.
The Phass Family Dentistry is not just a family dentistry to me; They are family to me.
Dr. Dean Phass
Image Credits: The Phass Family Dentistry