Down in the mouth over beloved dentist’s retirement

By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, November 16, 2013

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The first time I met my dentist, Dr. Fred Renfro, I contemplated biting his finger.

I was 6 years old, and my only other dental experience had ended traumatically.

Kristen Tribe

Kristen Tribe

Fortunately, I fought back the urge to bite and so blossomed a 32-year dentist/patient relationship. Last week I was saddened to learn of his upcoming retirement, but I celebrate this new chapter with him and wish him the best.

Prior to meeting Dr. Renfro, I had been to only one other dentist, a pediatric specialist in Denton. I was 3 years old, and my mom took me for my first dental exam. I was shy anyway, and especially scared that day.

I can’t recall all the details of that visit, but I do remember him clamping his hand over my mouth and telling me to hush as I cried in the chair. I have a vivid image of his large hand closing over my mouth. I was terrified.

We never went back.

That’s why, three years later, I had decided that if even one of Dr. Renfro’s fingers came near my mouth, I would bite it. On my first visit to his office, they didn’t even try to take me back to an exam room. My parents and his office staff agreed that it might be best for Dr. Renfro to come to me in the waiting room.

I didn’t make it easy on anyone.

As Dr. Renfro cautiously entered the waiting area, I sat screaming in my dad’s lap. The dentist sat in a nearby chair and peered inside my gaping mouth as I wailed.

He had no intention of touching my mouth. He was just there to look, and somehow after a long-distance, quick inspection he was able to give my parents a sketchy idea of the dental work that would be required in my future.

Essentially, my mouth was too small for my teeth – a problem which led to years of careful orthodontic work. But the first order of business was to pull a few baby teeth that weren’t getting loose, to make room for the permanent teeth that were already pushing their way into my tiny mouth.

Because I was so nervous, Dr. Renfro prescribed a medication I took prior to the next appointment to help me relax, and once there he employed a few “tricks” to take my mind off the procedure. Of course, I enjoyed the benefit of nitrous oxide, but he also “blew a bubble” when he deadened an area and gave me a “barbecue banana-flavored jelly bean” to chew up. I’m still not sure what that was, but I fell for it.

I knew it was all a ruse, but I was glad to play along. I recognized the kindness Dr. Renfro and his staff extended to me, and I know my parents greatly appreciated his patience.

I spent so much time in his chair, I still remember the wallpaper pattern at his old office on Farm Road 51 South.

Through the years, he did all of my dental work, even my orthodontics. He pulled my wisdom teeth, filled a few cavities and even came in on a Friday night to fix a chipped tooth, after I made a flying trip back to Wise County from College Station. I had a minor accident at school and made a special trip for him to repair my crooked smile. No other dentist would do.

When my husband and I first married, we lived in Fort Worth, and even then I would trek back to Decatur for my dentist appointments. My husband also became his patient – and 15 years and two kids later, the Little Tribes are Renfro patients, too.

All those years ago my parents were so impressed with his work and the genuine concern he showed for me that they also became patients, which makes us one of his three-generation families. He treated my mom’s jaw pain so that she never suffered with it again, and also met my dad after hours on more than one occasion to treat his pain.

It’s hard to imagine having fond memories of dental work, but we do.

It was with great sadness that I opened the letter announcing his retirement. I slowly unfolded it and began to read: “My dental career has been a long and very satisfying one, and that career has been blessed and enhanced by your loyalty and trust. Some of you have been my patients for more than 30 years. …”

I couldn’t bear to read more. My heart was heavy.

A doctor/patient relationship is a delicate thing, and if you’re fortunate enough to find someone with which you really connect, it’s hard to break those ties.

But we will.

Dr. Renfro has earned his retirement. Through the years, he put his patients first and was dedicated to their dental health. My smile wouldn’t be the same without him and for that I am grateful.

So here’s to leisurely days dedicated to family and personal pursuits. Congratulations on your retirement, Dr. Renfro.

Kristen Tribe is editor of the Messenger.

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