Ed Amley – “Dr. Ed'' as his patients called him – is a popular St. Petersburg orthodontist who retired in June after more than 51 years in practice, much of the time with his brother, Rob, who retired in 2016. Amley, 78, whose efforts contributed to the decision by local government to add fluoride in the public water supply, wanted to work one more year, but says the coronavirus “cut it short.‘' He talked with the Tampa Bay Times about his career and his work to improve the dental health of school children.
What was it like working with patients during the pandemic?
Over all the years of practice, I’ve always wanted to have a personal relationship with all of my patients. Orthodontics is unique in that way, that we can spend often a good two years with people and you really get to know them, whether they are children or teens or going on into young adults, and now older patients as well …
Rather than shaking their hand or patting them on the back or some kind of a touch-point you would imagine during your talk with them and treatment, now it was hands off, gloves on every minute of the time, a gown on rather than just a – I like to practice in a golf shirt … Now I have to put a shield over all of that, and the glare from the light, it’s almost like a light barrier, so patients can’t see your eyes, they can’t see anything. And you have a mask on so they can’t see your lips moving … And you have a KN95 mask on, and so it’s like a respirator, so you’re almost like approaching them like Darth Vader. All they hear is breathing.
Over your career you’ve treated children and grandchildren of patients you saw when they were teenagers. What’s that like?
It was fun to see the patients and hear them explain things about how they didn’t do what I had mentioned for them to do. Cooperation is such a big thing in orthodontics. So they would short-cut this or that. So they were trying to tell their child or grandchild, “Don’t do it my way. You do it the way Dr. Ed tells you to do it.‘'
What shortcuts would they take?
The first thing is that many of the children forget that they need to brush their teeth. They’re in braces, braces are attached to everything, and they’ve got to get in there and spend time literally after every meal, cleaning. I’d tell girls, “You know, when you smile, you don’t want to have some spinach hanging there.” Guys don’t care. I just tell the guys that someday you’re going to meet somebody that you really care a lot about, a girl who you will want to get closer to. And, certainly, if you leave that stuff on your teeth you’re not going to have a very sweet breath. So they finally wake up.
You say kids aren’t always as careful with their braces as they should be. What do you tell them?
I like to explain to them, “Listen, I’m putting a violin in your mouth,” and it’s a very risky proposition because it’s delicate. “So I’m giving you this violin, it’s expensive and you’ve go to take care of it.‘' A lot of kids don’t get that idea, that this is something you have to treat with care or else it’s going to get damaged… It’s scary when you give something pretty delicate to somebody who just wants to go out and play football.
You had monthly contests for patients and put on special events for them. What was “Dunk the Doc” all about?
Each year we would have what we call a patient appreciation party … This one year we decided to have a huge picnic out at (War Veterans Memorial Park) … We got a company to come out and put these jumping rooms in and all kinds of games and things kids could get involved with ...
Well, one of the things was this dunk tank where I had to be dressed in my full outfit … So I’m sitting on this platform with my lab coat and everything on and this kid who was a pretty good baseball pitcher comes up ... and so he scored the target three times. The thing would let go and I’d go down into the tank and I have to get back up and reload it … I said, “Don’t show up at the office; I’m going to put some hurt on those teeth.” He said, “I’m just getting you back.”
The problem was then the next day – I’m very involved in church work and Bible studies in the city – and the next day our pastor was on vacation, so he asked me to deliver the sermon, and my ears were so full of water I couldn’t hear a thing. So I told the congregation, if I sound funny, if I’m talking real loud, I can’t hear anything because I was dunked so many times Saturday.
You wrote a curriculum on dental health for the Pinellas school system and recruited fellow dentists to go into the classrooms and talk about preventing tooth decay. How did that go?
I started having teachers and their kids coming in wanting to do orthodontics. So this led to us going in with the health department … And the dental health program then became also a Friday fluoride rinse program. So they would prepare the rinse and administer it and the kids would go on this program for a year. And the city council and county commission picked up on this. And we finally, after we had struggled for years, we got fluoridated water in the city water supply. It was sort of a cascading type of thing that all began because of this dental health education and understanding how teeth decay and why kids lose their teeth.