3 generations of dentists: Son, granddaughter follow in footsteps of Dr. Edward Keller
If the topic of dentistry comes up in the Keller family, chances are the conversation could last into the night.
“It gives me a source of pride to know we will probably cover dentistry for more than 100 years,” Keller said.
Keller loves to tell stories about his practice of 41 years in Dickinson. His son, Dr. John Keller, and John’s daughter, Megan Keller, can add their experiences from 28 years ago to the present time.
All three studied pre-dentistry at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minn. Edward Keller attended the university from 1949 to 1951. He graduated from Marquette University School of Dentistry in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1955. That June, he began his and practice in Dickinson, where he spent his entire career.
John Keller, a 1977 Trinity High School graduate, earned a degree in biology at the University of St. Thomas in 1981 and a doctor of dental surgery degree from the University of Minnesota in 1986. He holds a master’s degree from the Academy of General Dentistry, and has a dental practice in the Minneapolis suburb of Anoka.
Megan Keller, a 2008 graduate of Andover High School in Minneapolis, graduated with a degree in biology from the University of St. Thomas in 2012. She will receive a doctor of dental surgery degree from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 2016.
The early days
Edward Keller didn’t start out his career thinking he would become a dentist. He was enrolled Brunnerdale High School Seminary in Ohio, where a friend, Rev. Fred Koch, had considered dentistry before becoming a priest.
With Koch as his mentor, Keller was inspired to enroll in dental school. After graduation, he set up a practice in Dickinson in June of 1955.
The changes in technology have been profound since those early days.
“We got rid of the belt drill and air drill,” Keller said. “You constantly had to invest in equipment.”
The rewards of dentistry were knowing you really helped someone, he said.
“In those days, we would go out at night, sometimes 11 o’clock or Sunday morning when someone called with a toothache,” he said.
He said the biggest challenges were getting his patients to accept X-rays and regular cleanings.
“I had a hard time convincing them to have their teeth cleaned when they thought to brush once a week,” he said. “They didn’t think they needed X-rays or wanted to pay extra — they were very price conscious,” he said.
Keller compared the cost of a filling at $3 in 1951 going to $40 by the time he quit his practice, and then $150 today for the same filling.
Toward the end of his practice, education of his patients had greatly improved.
“One of my professors said in class that if we got nothing out of dental school, it was how to take care of our own teeth. It was worth the cost of going to dental school,” he said.
The need for dentures has declined over the years, he said.
“There are dentists, like my son, John, who has limited his practice to people 50 and over.
“He is replacing the big silver fillings that are breaking out,” he said. “It’s become expensive because you may have to replace the tooth with a crown or an implant. Implants are very popular now and very worthwhile.”
Today, Keller continues to write a column for the Emmons County Record. At last count, he has written 900 stories over the past 18 years. He also has published several children’s history books such as “My Mother’s Apron” that describes his boyhood on the North Dakota prairie.
John Keller remembers growing up in Dickinson where the family’s house was one block away from the office.
“We took care of the office and spent our spare time there,” he said. “I’d help Dad and he was always an inspiration for me.”
John Keller is looking forward to the day when his daughter, Megan, joins him in the practice.
“I have five children and so far, she’s the mostly likely one to get into dentrsy,” he said. “She always wanted to do it. What’s interesting, is she told me in the fifth grade she was going to become a dentist.”
Megan Keller said she remembers fondly her trips to visit Dickinson and her grandparents.
“When I was young, we’d go to Dickinson once or twice a year,” she said. “I have four siblings and that was a big trip.”
She best remembers her grandpa after he was retired.
“How he loved to tell stories,” she said. “He has so many stories being in practice. I grew up being surrounded by his stories.”
The stories didn’t end with the visits. They kept in contact by telephone.
“Grandpa and Grandma made a point of calling their kids and grandkids and talking to them, even though we lived so far away. They were a really big part of our lives growing up,” she said.
Megan credits a combination of influences for her decision to become a dentist, including her father and grandfather.
“My dad had a direct influence,” she said. “I’d help him with emergency cases on weekends when somebody would knock out a tooth. I’ve really been around the profession of dentistry, but it’s definitely partially due to Grandpa who was so passionate about his career.”
Comparing the stories told by her grandfather, she said the practice of dentistry is as different as night and day.
“It’s things you couldn’t dream about 70 years ago,” she said. “We’re trying as hard as we can to keep patients from needing dentures.”
The Kellers still keep in touch with each other by telephone, but even communications have evolved.
“Over the last four or five years, we’ve been using a lot more emails,” she said. “For the grandkids in college, we can respond at any time.”