A trip to the dentist is rarely anyone’s idea of fun.
Especially if that dentist is your dad.
Growing up, Michael, Norman and Damon Don spent a fair amount of time around their dad’s Tucson dental office. Anthony P. Don paid the boys a buck an hour to water the plants or landscape or paint. But it was the appointment cancellations his kids dreaded.
“The surprise attack,” Norman Don, 57, recalled. “If a patient canceled a 1 o’clock appointment, right after lunch, he’d say, ‘Oh, hop in the chair. Let’s take a look.’”
The brothers shook their heads at the memory because invariably, Dad found cavities.
“He didn’t use anesthetic on us,” Norman said, grimacing. “Ugh, the smell of teeth when he drilled. ... ”
And yet, what profession did they all go into? Podiatry, perhaps? Accounting? Nope, they all stuck to mouth-related fields.
Meet the Don Dental Dynasty.
That’s what these Tucson dentists call themselves — they even had T-shirts once that said so.
The, ahem, oral history: It all began with Anthony, whose father wanted him to run the family’s Avra Valley ranch. He wanted to go to dental school.
“That’s what started the whole thing,” laughed his widow, Anna Don, 84, who added that her late husband was Tucson’s first Chinese dentist.
Anthony Don, who died of cancer in 1990, would no doubt be proud to see that decades later, the family tradition continues with his grandchildren going into dentistry.
It’s quite the family tree. How the branches shake out: Michael, Norman and Damon all started as dentists, with Michael, 60, switching to orthodontics and Damon, 53, specializing in periodontics. Michael is married to his high-school sweetheart, Sandy, a retired dental hygienist; their daughter, Lindsay, is an orthodontist. Norman’s wife, Tricia, is also a dental hygienist, and their son, Colin, is in his final year of dental school. Damon’s wife, Kacy LaFleur, is a dentist, and works with Norman. Their sons Tony and Ben are both in dental school.
Got all that? Oh wait — there’s one more: cousin Phillip.
“Dentistry is a great profession,” says Phillip, 57, who was also inspired by Anthony. “You get to serve people.”
Yes, there are a few rogue Dons: Michael’s daughter, Kristin, is a fashion designer in Los Angeles, and Norman’s daughter, Abby, is a vet. At her recent graduation from veterinary school in Fort Collins, Colorado, she gave her family a tour, which included an extended visit to the dental area where she and her dad took selfies as a German shepherd got some work done.
“I couldn’t make him leave,” Abby, 25, said, smiling and showing off perfect pearly whites, courtesy of two stints with braces.
When the close-knit gang gets together — which they aim to do every Sunday for a family dinner — they can’t help but talk some shop.
“It drives our other daughter crazy,” said Sandy, 60, with a laugh. “She’s like, ‘I’m so tired of talking dentistry! I feel so left out.’”
“I kept telling them to go into different fields,” Anna said.
Do they fight tooth and nail over patients? Nah. In fact, they have some mutual patients. And they also love to talk about their shared hobbies of hunting and fishing.
The Dons also do a lot of community service together, ranging from free dental screenings at schools and Hope Fest to volunteering with the Flying Samaritans and taking military veterans on an annual trip to Mexico through Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing.
As you might expect, when the boisterous group gets together, you’re bound to hear groan-worthy dental humor.
“What time is it when you have to see the dentist?” Phillip calls out, as everyone assembles for a group photo. “Tooth hurty.”