By Rita Christopher / Zip06.com â¢ 10/27/2021 8:30 AM EST
It’s finish; it is done. Dr. Howard Tunick won’t have to ask patients to open wide; he will not have to reassure nervous young people about the exercise; he won’t have to give reminders about flossing and brushing.
That’s because Howard, who practiced dentistry in Deep River for 41 years, retired at the end of September. Deep River Family Dental, however, hasn’t gone anywhere. Howard sold the practice to Dr. George Kwon, a graduate of the Boston University School of Dentistry.
âThe minute I met him, I knew he was right. I felt really good about it, âHoward says. “I interviewed over 20 people before I found the right person for a solo practice in a small town.”
Howard still goes to the office, making sure the transition goes smoothly, but said he plans to quit soon. What he does now in the office is to say goodbye to long-term patients.
âPeople say they are happy for me and sad,â he says. âEveryone is part of the family. I have seen four generations of certain families.
He admits that he will not only be missed by his patients in the dental chair, but by the camaraderie of his practice. He said even people who didn’t have an appointment would stop in the waiting room to chat.
âThere was always an ongoing conversation in the reception hall,â he recalls.
Retirement for Howard is a byproduct of COVID-19. During lockdown, the office was closed for four months.
âI did a lot of things. Now I can see the options,â he says. âI have a lot of hobbies that I didn’t have time for.
These hobbies focus on outdoor activities. He has been a canoeist since the age of 13, when his parents took him on a six-week canoe trip through Maine and Canada. He used to do what he describes as intensive whitewater canoeing. Now he favors a different style. Canoeing, he says, is “a great meditative exercise.”
When Howard was 13 he also started target shooting, which he still does today at a local sports club. It’s not his only shooting sport. He also does archery.
Howard’s activities will certainly include more time working with animals. He has long volunteered at Ray of Light Farm, an animal rescue center in East Haddam. He especially worked with a mule named Emma who was traumatized and scared when she first arrived at the shelter. Now, after a lot of work on Emma, ââshe’s comfortable when Howard is riding her.
Part of her outfit proclaims her loyalty, a belt buckle with the logo of Mule Days, a gathering of mule lovers and their animals in California. The belt buckle goes with his western boots. He has five pairs.
âI even wore boots to my wedding,â he says.
Howard is married to Leslie LeMay, who grew up in Chester.
On a leather cord around his neck, Howard wears two sheepdog whistles at different heights which he uses to call his dog Scout, an Australian Shepherd mix. Scout, however, is always on hand, a regular at the dental office and whose presence serves to put some nervous patients at ease.
Howard grew up on Long Island and began his studies at the University of Toledo. When he had to get up several times at night to go out and remove the ice from the roof of the Ford Galaxy convertible his mother had lent him, he decided he needed to be educated in a warmer climate. He transferred to the University of Miami, from which he graduated.
After college, he enlisted in the Air Force, serving for five years to fly tankers. Meanwhile, a friend was in dental school enjoying his studies, and kept telling Howard that he too needed to be a dentist.
âI thought I was going to have to do something when I got out, so I applied,â Howard says.
He admits his undergraduate grades weren’t exceptional, but he got lucky during his interview at Ohio State. All four interviewers were also veterans.
âI knew after that that I was in it,â he says.
After graduation he wanted to work in a country, not a city, convenient. He had learned that Dr Harold Samuels of Deep River was looking for a partner.
âHe hired me right away,â Howard recalls. In 1983, Dr Samuels retired and Howard took over the practice.
Dentistry, Howard says, is changing everything around him. He keeps abreast of new techniques through continuing education courses, but his goal has always been to keep things as simple as possible.
The patients, he explains, wanted to stop hurting, chewing, saving teeth.
âThey appreciated that I provided services as simply as possible,â he says.
He organized payment plans to spread the cost of the services and even in some cases waived the payment entirely.
âIt’s the way you do things in a small town,â he says.
Howard leaves his office, but nothing has changed in his feelings for the community he served.
âI love Deep River; people are wonderful, âhe says. “I loved being a dentist here.”