Dr. John Crane has seen his share of fillings and crowns in 36 years as a Mount Airy dentist, but has decided to hang up his drill.
Crane retired in late June, citing an ongoing problem with one of his fingers that affected the ability to continue practicing.
The veteran dentist, whose office is at 304 E. Independence Blvd., was informed last summer by an orthopedic surgeon that the index finger of his right hand — which Crane called his “drill” hand — no longer had any cartilage in the major joint.
Crane, whose office is now closed, could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but shared the medical dilemma that confronted him in a letter to his patients.
“He (the orthopedist) recommended at some time in the future that I have a total joint replacement, but could not guarantee that I would have the fine motor skills after surgery that are essential to performing dentistry,” Crane wrote.
“So I have decided to retire while I am still capable of providing the quality of dentistry you have come to expect from me.”
The announcement of Crane’s retirement came as a shock to many of his longtime patients.
“Well, I was surprised, because I had just been to him the week before…to fix a broken tooth,” said Dean Brown, a member of the Mount Airy Board of Commissioners who has relied on Crane’s dental skills for years.
“Ever since he came to town,” Brown said. “I was one of his first patients.”
In a profession many associate with pain, Crane has provided a special touch, according to Brown. Crane often has relied on a smile and wry sense of humor to make dental procedures much more pleasant to those confined helplessly in the chair, than would have been possible otherwise.
“He’s always been very caring, easy to get along with and to get appointments with in an emergency,” Brown said. “My teeth are soft and they break easily, and he’s always working on them.”
Aside from their patient-dental relationship, Brown said he knows Crane from attending First Baptist Church with him for many years. “He’s always been a great friend of mine.”
Crane has transferred his practice to Dr. Melissa Smith, who most recently has been associated with the dental program at Surry County Health and Nutrition Center in Dobson. She resigned from that position two weeks ago, a spokesperson at the center said Tuesday.
The retired dentist indicated in the letter to patients that a painstaking search led to Smith’s selection.
“As I have looked for my replacement, it has been a priority to find someone who wanted to practice and live in the Mount Airy area,” Crane noted.
Smith, the wife of Nathan Smith, grew up in Surry County and graduated from North Surry High School before receiving her dental training at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry. Crane referred to her as “a caring, compassionate dental care provider.”
Crane’s office will reopen next Monday, according to a recorded telephone message there.
Dr. Smith plans to retain Crane’s staff, and Crane and his wife Helen will continue to live in Mount Airy, the letter to patients states.
The veteran dentist wrote that it is hard to say good-bye to those he has met through his practice.
“I thank you for the laughs, the smiles, the conversations and the many memories that have made my dental career the joy that it has been.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-719-1924 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.