Dr. John David Simmons hung out his shingle 35 years ago when he began to practice family dentistry in Dexter. In a matter of weeks, that sign will come down. He'll be hanging up his drill, his retractor, and his periodontal scaler, and picking up his golf clubs and his tuba.
Simmons was raised in Dexer by a loving grandmother, Opal Fields.
"My grandmother was a sweetheart. She was a large lady, drove a pink 1950 Plymouth and sold Avon," he smiles. "I miss her a lot."
He graduated from Dexter High School in 1967. He enlisted in the U.S Navy and spent from 1967 to 1970 serving his country. Most of that time was spent in Japan as a hospital corpsman in a Medivac unit.
"When the injured in Vietnam were stabilized there, many of them would be flown to us for treatment before being sent to the states or back to combat."
Upon returning home, he attended college on the GI bill.
"I never would have been able to afford it otherwise," he admits.
Simmons graduated from Southeast Missouri State University and then from the University of Missouri at Kansas City in 1978. Armed with his degree in dentistry, he says there was no other option for him other than to return to his hometown to practice.
"I just never thought of going anywhere else but home," he says.
And so, late in 1978, he began practicing in a brick building at the corner of Walnut and Grant Streets near downtown Dexter.
"There were three of us in the building," he recalls. "There was Dr. Robert Boon, Dr. John Minton and myself. We were all housed in the same building, but we each practiced separately."
It was a plan that worked well for Simmons for 29 years. Minton would eventually relocate his practice in Dexter and has since retired. Boon practiced until his retirement in 2007. He died in April 2011.
"Dr. Boon was a wonderful man," Simmons says of his mentor.
Following the death of his friend and colleague, Simmons decided to make a move to a newer, updated facility. In late 2007, he leased a spacious office complex on Corporate Drive.
"It was one of the best decisions I've ever made," he says of the move. "It's spacious and bright and modern, and I've never regretted that decision."
With him, Simmons took his five-member staff, whose cumulative years total nearly a century, speaking well of their commitment to his practice.
The realm of dentistry has seen its share of changes over the past 35 years. From advancing technology to the upturn in the field of cosmetics, the practice of dentistry has been a diverse one.
"It's amazing how far we've come," he notes, "with crowns, bonding, veneers, and how everyday realistic cosmetic dentistry has become."
He says one of the most significant changes has been the drastic decline in tooth decay in children. "I credit the fluoridation in the water today with that achievement," he says, "and in toothpaste products and better oral hygiene through education. It's a different world than it was when I began."
For Simmons, another significant change, he says, involves the issue of dental insurance.
"Dealing with the bureaucracy of insurance companies is an ongoing fight," he explains. "I'm constantly trying to get for my patients what they are entitled to get instead of what the insurance companies want to dictate."
One might think the greatest challenge for someone practicing since the 1970s would be making the perfect smile or achieving the best result possible when repairing the teeth of someone injured. But for Simmons, it's been affording care to those who, though they're trying to make a living, struggle financially to afford proper dental care.
"That's what's been difficult -- trying to treat a single mom who has three young children and is working a job that doesn't pay what we'd like for it to -- just trying to accommodate regular people. That at times has been a tremendous challenge. It's almost like pulling teeth," he smiles.
The philosophy for Dr. David Simmons has been a simple one.
"I practiced bread and butter dentistry," he explains. "I've tried to treat everyone as best I could, and I've always strived to be fair and honest."
Simmons was the last dentist in the area who accepted patients on Medicaid. He continued taking Medicaid patients until it was no longer feasible as a businessman to do so.
"It got to the point where I was only reimbursed about 30 cents on the dollar. It just couldn't be done."
Simmons is staying on in the practice for awhile as a consultant to his replacement, Dr. Nathan Seyer, and to finish some dental work on his patients that involve follow-up procedures. But soon, he'll be done. He and his wife, Mary Ann, who is a recently retired first grade teacher at Dexter Schools, are building a home near Nashville, Tenn.
"We have a five-month old granddaughter there, and we're going to spend time being grandparents," he explains. "And I plan to spend a lot of time on the golf course."
But also in the cards are some personal fulfillments for the retired dentist. Few know that Simmons is also an accomplished musician, especially on the tuba. The couple has already made several visits to the area where they'll be living. One of their priorities was to find a place of worship. They have been faithful and involved members of First Baptist Church for many years.
"We found a church called Brentwood Baptist," he says, "and they have a full orchestra -- violins, violas, a harp, cellos, trumpets, trombones, and flutes. But there's one thing they don't have," he adds with an eyebrow raised. "They don't have a tuba -- till now!"
He hopes also to become involved with some overseas mission trips -- something he always wanted to do, but just never took the time.
"I have a great admiration for people in the medical field who have done that, so now maybe I can make that a reality."
Editor's note: Dr. David Simmons authored a note expressing his sentiments upon his retirement. That letter appears on today's editorial page.