Lawhorn’s Lawrence: A dentist who will make you smile

Dr. Paul Kincaid plans to retire from his Lawrence dental practice on his 94th birthday at the end of January, a mere 70 years after he started it.

Longtime friend Leo Nau, of Lawrence, right, chats with Dr. Paul Kincaid recently during a dental visit. Kincaid plans to retire at the end of January, on his 94th birthday, after 70 years as a dentist.

It was the 20-year plan, and Paul Kincaid came up with it right after he had stumbled over one of life’s hurdles.

Don’t roll your eyes at me. I’m not getting ready to launch into some metaphor. I mean Kincaid had just tripped over a hurdle. It was at a high school track meet, and Kincaid was under the impression he could run the hurdles, although he had never done so before. After the first hurdle, his knees, elbows, face became more closely acquainted with the cinder surface of the track. So, he retired to the stands, and began chatting with a friend about the future, since a spot on the Olympic track team no longer seemed assured.

“He told me he was going to become a dentist,” Kincaid remembers. “It was the hot thing. He would work for 20 years and retire.”

That sounded pretty good. Kincaid actually had given the profession a little bit of thought before. He grew up next to a dentist and had made a keen observation.

“I noticed he went in to work at 9 o’clock, and my dad went in a lot earlier,” Kincaid says.

So it was settled. The 20-year plan it was. Kincaid is set to put the period on that plan at the end of this month. On his birthday, Jan. 30, he plans to retire from his Lawrence dental practice. Just a mere 70 years after he started it. Yes, Kincaid is better at dentistry than he is at math.

“I’ve just never known when to quit,” Kincaid says.

On his birthday, he’ll turn 94, and he figures that is as good a time as any to put an end to this plan. He’s been working half days at his practice — Associates in Dentistry, which includes his son, Dr. Charles Kincaid — for several years now. But at the end of the month, he says he’ll quit it all.

No more fillings, no more root canals, no more crowns. It is impossible to count how many of those he has done. It is hard enough just to list all the changes dentistry has gone through in the last seven decades.

He remembers some pieces of dentistry equipment that actually were driven by belts, which occasionally would be thrown and create quite a commotion during a procedure. That was long before the high-speed, hand-held dental tools of today. That’s been the biggest advancement, he says. Especially the high-tech burs — the bit-like devices — that have made reducing a tooth down to size a much easier job. Back in the day, a fellow might wear a bur completely out grinding on a tooth, or he could resort to a more rudimentary cutting-wheel type of device, Kincaid recalls.

“The problem with that was, if you slipped, you would cut a fellow’s tongue off,” Kincaid says.

There were some famous tongues in the chair over the years. Quite a few KU athletes would come to the practice, which since the 1950s has been located near the corner of 23rd and Barker. Wilt Chamberlain maybe was the most famous. No, Kincaid didn’t need a step ladder to see inside that mouth, but the Big Dipper did make it hard to maneuver around the chair.

“The chair faced toward a window that was a good distance away, and Wilt would rest his feet on the window sill,” Kincaid recalls.

But mostly, it was just ordinary people who came into the office, and Kincaid always liked them the best anyway. Ordinary people were a lot more likely to give you a hug.

“I enjoy my patients the most because I get so many hugs from them,” Kincaid says.

Hugs have been known to derail a lot of things, 20-year plans included. Kincaid says they certainly were a big part of why he kept putting off retirement year after year after year.

“People seem to like me, and that just drives me crazy happy,” Kincaid says.

It is good to know that when you are about to turn 94 years old you don’t have to delude yourself about such things. Lots of us these days tell ourselves how being liked is overrated and is not worth the worry — perhaps because we’re not very well liked. Kincaid suggests we may want to rethink it all.

“It is true,” Kincaid says. “If you are liked by people, it makes you happier.”

Kincaid isn’t quite sure how he’ll feel when he walks away from the practice this month.

“There is a fear lingering down here in my stomach about that day that I don’t have to get up and answer the bell,” Kincaid says.

Somehow, I think Kincaid will do OK. He already has a plan. It involves bracelets, clocks and his immaculate backyard woodshop that would cause Bob Vila to cry upon the sleeve of his flannel shirt. For several years now, Kincaid has used his lifelong hobby of woodworking to make miniature desktop clocks and handcrafted bracelets out of exotic woods.

Over the last several years, Kincaid has given away about 400 of the bracelets to patients and friends. But don’t worry, even without the dental practice Kincaid will still have plenty of occasion to give gifts. He’s begun giving the bracelets to random people, just to brighten their day a bit.

“The looks on their faces are the reward,” Kincaid says.

But the best news about giving is you don’t have to have bracelets, clocks or a woodshop that causes Norm Abram to wag his tape measure like a little puppy dog. Kincaid proves there are so many ways to give. He’ll help you with your coat. He’ll give you a magazine he thinks you would like to read. He’ll offer you more desserts than any doctor should. And always, he’ll give you a warm smile.

“The most joy I get is giving things away,” Kincaid says.

The math was all wrong, but the plan has been a good one.