15 Minutes — Putting a smile on people’s faces
May 12, 2003
Name: Jon Clinton Helman
Birthdate: Jan. 28, 1944. I’m 59 years old.
Family: Wife Mary Ann, a nurse at Barton, daughter Elizabeth, a doctoral candidate in theater at the University of Oregon and son Andrew, who is attending UC Irvine.
Occupation: Dentist/periodontist, 2155 South Ave., South Lake Tahoe
How long have you lived at Lake Tahoe? About 24 years. I practiced in the Bay Area for a number of years before I came up here and for a while I worked on the academic side, commuting to San Francisco.
What do you like about living here? The beautiful thing is raising your kids here. We are very lucky to raise our children here in the environment, where there are a lot of wonderful outdoor things to do.
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Where did you learn dentistry? I graduated in 1970 from University of Pacific Dental School and went on later to do more graduate work.
Why dentistry? Because they call you doctor. (laughs) Seriously though, it really is an art science. You work with your brains and your hands and engineer in order to make people feel better.
How did you get into it? I had originally wanted to be a botanist studying pond scum and teach at the college level. I realized my deferment for the military was going to be over so I went to a Marine Corps recruiter and told them I wanted to study dentistry. When they told me they didn’t need any more dentists, I applied to dental school. When I got in, I got my draft notice. But it was the end of the war, so I wasn’t called up.
How has the profession changed? Well, it’s unfortunate that the costs associated with it have gone up so much. I mean, 30 years ago if you had an insurance plan, you usually got $1,000 for dental work. Today, you get the same $1,000 and the cost for work keeps going up.
On the other hand, dentistry has improved and has survived the test of time. People no longer believe as they did 50 years ago that they will wind up with false teeth. Today people are keeping their teeth for a lifetime thanks to dentistry. It has maintained its good value.
In our culture, doctors are seen as heroes and dentists are seen as villains. Why don’t people like dentists? People associate us with pain. The thing is, when dentistry is done correctly, there is relatively little pain involved. There is no reason why a dentist can’t give a painless or a relatively painless shot.
Do you take the stigma to heart? It’s hard not to. This part of the job is the hardest party of dentistry. It’s like a form of rejection and no one likes to be rejected. That’s why I work closely with my patients and am empathetic to their problems.
Have you had any trouble while working on a patient? I’ve been bit a couple times.
You’ve been bit? Yeah. It comes with the job. I just wasn’t fast enough to get my fingers out of their mouth. It’s only happened a couple times, which is pretty good for 33 years.
Do you know any good dentist jokes? Yes, but none that could be printed in a newspaper.
What do you like about your job? I get to use my mind and hands to take people out of pain. Oh, and I can make people look prettier. I save teeth.
So even though people don’t like dentists, they appreciate what you do? Yes. People will come in after a traumatic accident to their teeth and within an hour I can clean it up, patch it up, rebar the roots and restore it, bringing it back to being functional. That’s what’s gratifying about the job.
What do you like the least? Insurance companies bar none. It would be the most wonderful thing in the world if money wasn’t involved in dentistry.
What are your hobbies outside the office? I walk a lot and pick up cans off the road for recycling. And yard work. I find raking pine needles relaxing. And I do some amateur meteorology. I work with kids who give weather reports on KRLT radio.
What’s your life’s philosophy? I’ve been so fortunate. I have a very good wife and two very good children. I guess I would say that my key to living is the Golden Rule. Treat everyone equally and treat them with dignity, the way you would want to be treated.