Dr. Oliver celebrates anniversary: 50 years of practice in Polk County

Published 4:36 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Where was your birthplace?

I was born in Newburyport, Mass.

What or who brought your interest to dentistry?

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I have always enjoyed working with my hands and seeing the results of that work. I was encouraged by a pastor from the church I attended in Raleigh, N.C., whose wife gave aptitude tests and I scored rather high in the biological sciences and manual dexterity. Therefore dentistry was a natural choice.

Where did you first set up practice? &bsp;

I first practiced dentistry in a little town called Naples, N.C., that is just south of Fletcher on Hwy #25. I practiced with one of my mentors, a dental school professor, Dr. Forrest C. Port.

How did you choose Columbus?

I came to Columbus because I knew Dr. Roy L. Morgan, who came to this area in 1955. I knew he was interested in bringing a dentist into this area, so I looked this place up and decided to establish a dental practice here.

I worked in this (Columbus) practice trying to establish it beginning Oct 10, 1960. But a couple of years later I worked with Dr. Clark in Hendersonville. So I worked three days a week in each practice (Hendersonville and Columbus) for a number of years, up until the late seventies. During those years I worked six days a week, Sunday through Friday.

In 1968 I moved into the Columbus Medical Dental Building located at 43 East Mills Street.

How did you find an associate to join your practice?

I had been in practice in Columbus since 1960 up until the winter of &squo;87. My daughter, who was living in Augusta, Ga., knew of a dentist who had just graduated from the Medical College of Georgia and was interning there. I interviewed Dr. Wagner in February of 1988 and we agreed that he would come into the practice if he passed his N.C. dental state boards, which he did in June of 1988. He began practicing here on July 18, 1988. That was the start of an association that has been mutually beneficial to us and to our patients for the last 21 years.

How is dentistry different today?

Back in the late 50s and 60s patients were primarily interested in taking care of cavities, staying free from infection and desired function. We used the best dental materials we had available back then but dental materials are always advancing. In the last 15 to 20 years there has been such advancement in dental materials. Now the emphasis is definitely on aesthetics. Patients are demanding whiter teeth, better smiles, and more of this type of dentistry. The modern materials that we have go a great way toward fulfilling the desires of these patients. We&squo;re still interested in taking care of cavities and keeping people out of infection and all the rest, but the emphasis is much more now on how you look, how you smile and aesthetics.

What keeps you in the dental office?

I have said for several years there are three criteria for me being here at my age. One is to be able to have correct eyesight so I can see properly; another, to have steady hands so I can work properly and another is to have enthusiasm for the practice of dentistry. Any one of these three items goes and I am out the back door.

Your wife worked with you for a while in dentistry, didn&squo;t she?

My wife, Odila Oliver, worked as an RN at St. Luke&squo;s Hospital for many years before she started working as her husband&squo;s chairside assistant and receptionist. She retired in 1991, but remains active with the Red Cross weekly blood pressure checks at MediCap Pharmacy. She teaches beginning piano to students at the Tryon Seventh-day Adventist School, where she also tutors in math and provides other classroom help. Last year she had 13 piano students.

When you started assistants weren&squo;t used and stand-up dentistry was the only way. Is that true?

Yes, this is true! In my training at Loma Linda University back in the late 50s, we did stand-up dentistry and in fact, a couple of my classmates tried sitting down, but the equipment wasn&squo;t designed for that, and the professors were very much against it ‐ calling these folks &squo;lazy&squo; if they sat down. Over time I had to retrain myself and buy the proper equipment to do sit-down dentistry. But as a result, going in this direction, my whole health has been greatly enhanced. I had classmates who had to retire early because they had problems with their legs and backs. So the way to practice dentistry properly is to have the patient in a very reclined, comfortable position. We can see much better, we can operate much better and although dentistry is hard on the dentist physically, this does make it much easier.

When you built the building in 1968, weren&squo;t the requirements of dentistry different than they are today?

Yes, I know what you&squo;re driving at. We built this building ‐ it was designed by a dental company. At that time we were basically doing stand-up dentistry and I had one employee who collected the money and mixed the cement. Virtually nobody had insurance and it was a cash practice. Today we have two front office personnel, two chair side assistants, one clinical assistant and two hygienists. For years, I did all the hygiene myself, so it is a great change from what it was. The office had to be remodeled, and of course, like anything else in life, if you don&squo;t adapt you start to fall out of the profession.

I heard you have come to the office on your tractor.

One winter when it had snowed, I rode to the office on my tractor to scrape the parking lot and I saw a few patients. One patient still reminds me of this encounter. &bsp;

Anything funny happened in your practice over the years?

Yes, a lot of funny things. I remember one instance when I was working in Hendersonville with Dr. Clark, who was quite a bit older than I was. He had taken care of a particular tooth on his patient but the tooth was still sensitive. He asked me to take a look at it and see what I can come up with. So I took a look and thought I saw a crack in the tooth so I called Dr. Clark back and I told him what I saw. He said &dquo;No, if that was a crack I could push on the side of the tooth and it would fall off.&uot; He pushed. It fell. His face turned red. He walked out of the room without saying another word.

One other time I had a lady I was going to extract a lower molar on. I anesthetized the patient. Then when I started to extract the tooth ‐ this was &squo;stand-up&squo; dentistry by the way ‐ she wrapped her right arm around my waist and hooked her finger in my belt loop. The harder I pulled the more she pulled down and I didn&squo;t know which was going to happen first, my pants off or the tooth out. Fortunately my pants stayed on and the tooth came out without incident.

I had another lady who had to have a tooth removed. Anesthesia was profound. So I began to luxate the tooth and she began to grunt and groan. I stopped and asked if it was hurting and she said no. I began again and the same thing happened, she grunted and groaned, I asked if she was in pain and she said no. So I continued and completed the extraction with her grunting and groaning the whole time. When I finished I said, &dquo;Did that hurt you?&dquo; She said no. I asked her why all the grunting and groaning and she said, &dquo;I thought I was supposed to.&dquo;

How has infection control changed over the years?

There have been a lot of changes. When we first started out we just washed our hands and went to work. No gloves, eye protection or masks. We used to call it wet finger dentistry. Disposable needles were a big advance so we didn&squo;t have to sterilize and sharpen the old reusable needles. Gloves are now worn by the dentist and the chairside assistant, which provides protection for the patient and the dentist. Masks and protective eyewear are now used. There are so many changes, many of them mandated by the federal government, that keeps the patient and the health care provider safe in a cleaner, more sterile environment.

What difference has a computer made in your life in dentistry?

Computers have transformed so many things. For instance, taking radiographs ‐ our office has been digital for about 3 years now.&bsp; Therefore we do not have chemicals in the building that are used to develop radiographic film. The radiation exposure is much less with digital and within four seconds we can see the image on the computer screen. Computers have greatly enhanced dentistry; of course there is a large learning curve and that has to be taken into consideration. And as long as there is electricity in the building we can benefit from these modern conveniences. &bsp;

What boards have you served on?

I served on a lay advisory board at St. Luke&squo;s for several years. At present I am serving on a board at The Collins Dental Center in an advisory capacity.

What about community projects?

Several years ago when the Head Start program was getting under way by our federal government, I went to the schools in this area examining children&squo;s mouths and giving them instructions for their dental health. At that same time in the summer time I would have literally bus loads of first graders coming in for dental checkups, fluoridation and instruction. We saw a lot of dental disease in those eras. Things have improved somewhat although there is still a lot of room for improvement as far as our young people are concerned.

I also served in our Seventh-day Adventist Church Community Service Thrift Store located in the Roy L. Morgan Center in Lynn, working with the donated clothing.

What about your family?

Married to a wonderful wife of 58 years now, Odila. We have three children. Cheryl is a teacher in Boiling Springs, S.C. Becky lives very close to us and keeps a sharp eye on us. She works with individuals in care giving. Our son, John Fredrick, lives in Greenville, S.C. He uses his voice as a means of lively hood. He&squo;s on the radio and television in advertising and this type of thing. We have six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

What is one of the main benefits that you and Dr. Wagner have by working together?

There are many, but I would narrow it down to this thought: we can serve our patients very well by consulting together on difficult cases. And especially as I work in the laboratory, I can work very closely with him on difficult cases and this is especially true as Dr. Wagner is getting into more and more implant cases.

Dr. Wagner offered the following comments about Dr. Oliver&squo;s 50th anniversary: &dquo;Dr. Oliver has served this community with as much skill and integrity as I have found in a clinician. I have had the privilege of working with him for over 20 years and our partnership has expanded our ability to deliver thoughtful patient care.&bsp; I hope that Dr. Oliver can continue to work part-time for many more years.&dquo;&bsp;