Centenarian in Dentistry

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The privilege of spending time with a person who has experienced 100 years of change in our world always excites me. So I wasn’t going to turn down the invitation to the 101st birthday party for Grandma Sadie. When I discovered that Grandma Sadie had worked in a dental office early in her life, I was excited to hear her stories.

I have a unique allure for centenarians.

I consider myself an old soul and the seasoned patients in my dental practice are my favorite. I’ve had the wonderful honor of treating many centenarians.  And, I completed my dental training in Loma Linda, CA one of the world’s few designated blue zones.

Grandma Sadie was born in Madrid, CO on January 11, 1918, just months before the end of World War I. She was orphaned before the age of 5 and raised by an Italian immigrant. She completed an 8th-grade education but was unable to finish high school due to financial constraints and a lack of priority on education for women.

In midlife, she was offered a job working for a dentist in Farmington, NM. The doctor trained her on the job and she was the only auxiliary in the office.  Her duties were all-inclusive: greeting and seating patients, collecting money, scheduling appointments, assisting the doctor with procedures, polishing teeth, cleaning the instruments and rooms.  When there wasn’t a patient, she learned to help “the lab man” who also worked in the office. 

I asked her what she wore to work and she replied, “The nicest clothes I had.” This is a throwback to a different professional dress standard and far from the OSHA regulations, we have today.

She worked in the dental office for about 5 years before her dentist retired and she moved to Albuquerque. The dentist provided her with a letter of recommendation so she would be able to get a dental office job in Albuquerque. While she never pursued work in the dental field again, she speaks fondly of the opportunity to learn new skills and how much she enjoyed interacting with the patients. A summary of her important life experiences always includes her years working in the dental office. 

At 101, she feels lucky and thankful.

She lives independently in her own home.  She is proud that she still drives her car, cleans her house, mows her lawn, and does her bookkeeping. 

Around her 100th birthday, she needed to renew her driver’s license and the state required her to take a driving test. To make the exam tougher, she was required to drive in the examiner’s car.  And the exam included driving through a school zone, passing 2 cars and parallel parking. Grandma Sadie scored 100%. Days later she received a letter from the examiner saying, “I’ve never had such a safe training ride as I did with Sadie.”

I asked what advice she would give to young women today. She said, “Do the best you can. If you don’t know, you can always ask. And when you ask, you will learn.” 

Grandma Sadie is spicy.  She likes to joke that she’s still here because the big fellow upstairs doesn’t want to put up with her. She knows a key to longevity is maintaining a healthy amount of humor.

I am inspired by the intellect of a patient who took college classes past her 100th birthday. I am inspired by the athleticism of the Loma Linda doctor who waterskied on his 100Th birthday and by the centenarian honored at Snowbird who skied a July snowfield on his 100th birthday. And I am inspired by my friend Grandma Sadie who continues to live with zeal in her 11th decade.

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