The Central OKC office is home to several team members who have been a part of the Dental Depot family for years, connecting with and serving families for generations. One such familiar face is dental hygienist Gary Wheeler.
There is something to be said about Gary, our August 2019 Employee of the Month, who is so beloved by his patients that their comments made up his nomination for the award.
Amid the reviews hailing Gary as the “best hygienist in the world,” are stories that communicate just how much of an impact he’s had in the lives of our patients. We sat down to visit with Gary about his time at Dental Depot, the patients he’s enjoyed, and the infamous hijinks he’s gotten into over the years.
Dental Depot: You will have been with Dental Depot for 17 years in September. What brought you here?
Gary Wheeler: Well, we came in the car [laugh]. There’ll be a lot of those you’ll have to edit out. Truthfully, I graduated from the University of Louisiana in Monroe, La., in 2001. The job market there was not very good, so we thought we’d try somewhere else. We visited Oklahoma throughout our college years. My wife’s family is here in Oklahoma, and the rest of my family is back in Louisiana. I miss the trees, all the fishin’ holes, all the water. It’s called the Sportsman’s Paradise because you never have to go far to do any fishing or hunting or anything like that.
DD: Tell us about your family.
GW: I have three sons, ages 16, 14 and 12. My wife has been a stay-at-home mom since the first kid was born and she’s recently gone back to doing a few part-time jobs. We had a deal before we ever had children: if we could make it work where she could stay at home as she wanted, I wanted to know what was in it for me. So I got out of diaper duty and she got to stay at home.
DD: So, what got you interested in dentistry to begin with?
GW: I had a great dental experience as a kid. The office I went to was wonderful; the girls would tease you from the moment you walked in the door, the doctor liked my kind of music, and the first time I went in he wore the exact same pair of shoes that I had on! I knew I was going to like the place. Unfortunately, I was there way too often [laughs], so much so that I was getting familiar with tooth numbers as a kid. When it came time to pick a career, I wanted to make sure somebody had as good a time going to the dentist as I did. I didn’t realize that it was such an issue for people to go to the dentist because my experience there was good – I looked forward to it. And so I try to help everyone else look forward to their dental experiences as well.
DD: That’s incredible. From everything we’ve heard, everyone says, ‘Gary’s the best thing ever!’
GW: [laughs] People can be bribed.
DD: What made you choose dental hygiene, specifically?
GW: Truthfully, the school that I went to didn’t offer a dental program, hygiene was as far as you could go at that time. And I had considered going back and doing dental school, but once the kids started, it wasn’t going to happen.
DD: Over the years, you’ve seen a lot of growth and a lot of changes at Dental Depot. What are some of the highlights of that?
GW: It’s always a give and a take – a lot of the patients that you see here, will branch to other locations that are closer to them. I don’t think we see quite as many kids here as we used to, because they were coming from all over. Now they’re going to the other offices closer to them. That’s one of the harder things, is seeing the dynamic of the patient flow change as other locations were added and built.
As far as the growth part, you get more employees that you get to meet. It makes you more versatile and it gives you more advantages within the office itself, and within the company, to be able to move around and change locations. If someone is running short on employees that day you can borrow from another office and it makes it so much easier. With the growth, that’s one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed. Other than that, we’ve maintained the same profile of patient care throughout all of it, so nothing has changed on that end.
DD: What do you like most about Dental Depot?
GW: Really I like the people I work with here, they’ve been wonderful. There is a lot of comradery and commonality. These are people you can not only work with but also share a life with. You can obtain knowledge and learn from experiences they’ve had as well, and that’s a wealth of information to have. It’s not something you’ll find in most offices. It makes it very unique to have that sort of environment.
DD: We understand that you’re quite the comedian. Can you share some of your stories?
GW: [Laughs] I do have that reputation. I’m more of a collector of what has come in through the patients over the years. I had a patient who was 98 years old and had 31 teeth – wisdom teeth included. He was missing tooth #3, and he looked at me and asked, ‘Do you want to know what happened to that tooth?’ and I said, ‘You know what, I sure do.’ He said, ‘That was my pecan crackin’ tooth.’ 98 years old and had 31 teeth! He hadn’t been to the dentist in 20-something years and he only had one cavity.
DD: You’ve probably had full families and kids growing up in your chair?
GW: Yes, the patient I just had – we started with him, I believe he was just married or about to be, and now he has three kids. And he told me this morning that his kids said, ‘Be sure and tell Mr. Gary hello,’ because I see all of them as well. I get to watch them grow up. I’ve got quite a few families – well, they’re working on third generations at this point. Some of the kids that were young when they started are now graduated from college and are now bringing in their kids. I was already seeing them and their parents when they started.
DD: Do you have a most memorable patient? Somebody who really stuck out?
GW: There have been quite a few memorable patients over the years. I’ll leave their stories for now, since some of them are no longer with us.
DD: What’s that like for you? Having a patient who’s passed away?
GW: It’s the harder part of what I do. There are so many good folks out there and when they get to know you, they’ll share what’s going on in their lives. When some of them are gone, you knew what struggles they had been facing along the way. We’ve had our share of patients who had pretty tough hardships. It takes its toll on you for sure. You don’t ever forget them.
DD: I understand, those patients can really get to you. I saw that the patient of the month for your office was a 100-year-old man – they have to be fun to have around.
GW: We get a few of those from time to time, we don’t always have them long, but those old guys are somethin’ else. We had one patient, he was older, and every time I would see him I would ask, ‘How are you?’ and he’d answer with, ‘I’m hopin’ to live to 100 and get shot by a jealous husband!’ That was his answer every time I saw him. He’s one of those who are no longer with us, but that was his line every time I came in.
DD: Do you ever get in on the pranks here?
GW: Yes… but I usually come up with my own material. My second week on the job, Ms. Pam [Foster] always kept a mirror at her desk to check her lipstick or anything before she went in to talk to a patient. Somebody in the office, on their second week at the job, decided to Xerox a gorilla from the National Geographic and tape it inside the mirror to have that for when she flipped it open. Said person also found out Ms. Pam was deathly afraid of crickets, and I can impersonate a cricket quite well. It was good to use that from time to time; she’d stop and do a heebie-jeebies dance every single time. Once, I even bought a rubber cricket and taped it to her phone receiver so when she picked it up – [screams].
When Gary isn’t at work he keeps himself busy with his three sons. They hunt, fish and practice their marksmanship together. As a family they enjoy board games – both traditional and more unusual varieties. Gary has been the drummer at his church for the last three years and encourages his sons’ musical interests as well. He’s been known to do wood-working and is dreading becoming an empty-nester. If Gary doesn’t have something to do, he says, that’s when he gets himself into mischief.
Gary was nominated by his coworkers at Dental Depot Central OKC, but by his patients as well. Here’s what they had to say:
“Hygienist Gary was awesome. Made me feel very comfortable and gave me pointers on teeth maintenance that I had never heard before! Highly recommend. Will in returning again in 6 months! Thank you to Gary, Dr. Winn and the helpful staff at Dental Depot on 23rd!”
“Had my cleaning today and my hygienist was an awesome guy. Shout out to Gary. He made it comfortable and it was like talking and joking with a good friend. Not to mention he did his job very well. See you guys in six months!”
“Gary is an amazing hygienist. My children & grandchildren all see [him]…we wouldn’t go anywhere else!”
“Gary always does a top notch job of cleaning my teeth, and I have never had in all the years of his cleaning one incidence of tooth decay.”
“I love Dental Depot! I’m always treated like an old friend when I go in! Gary is absolutely hilarious! He’s like that uncle that everyone loves! I always look forward to seeing him and Dr. Ashmore!”
“My daughters and I love Dr. Winn Ashmore and his staff! Gary the hygienist has been requested by my daughters since they were 4. My oldest is leaving for college this fall and she has made her Christmas visit home fit with Gary’s work schedule… I can’t sing enough praises about this group. They are not just people we see every 6 months but are more like family.”
Dental Depot is a locally owned and operated family company. As such, we believe that the incredible group of doctors, hygienists, assistants and staff that make up Dental Depot are more than their job titles; they’re members of our extended family. In our family, we like to recognize when someone goes above and beyond, living the Dental Depot values. This August, we are proud to shine a spotlight on Employee of the Month Gary Wheeler.