John was born in Belfast, ME. The family moved to Bangor, ME, when he was a child and this is where he calls home, went to school and graduated. As a young man, only 17 years old, he wanted to join the military. His high school offered the opportunity for students in their senior year to join the Army Reserve. He had to have his mother’s permission, and he said with a smile in his voice, “He had to do a lot of begging but she relented.” So once every month during his senior year he marched off to the Army camp for training and then six months active duty after graduation. He served 10 years in the Army Reserve before going into the Air National Guard. While in the Guard he worked in the dental department as a dental assistant. and was trained in dental radiology. He enjoyed dental work and thought it would make a good career so after he was discharged from the service he attended and was graduated from Kerpel Dental Technician School in New York state. Money was scarce and he was fortunate to secure a job as an usher at the famous Radio City Music Hall. This was a fun way to earn extra cash and enjoy the “big time” in New York.
After graduation from Kerpel he worked in a very large dental laboratory knowing he would get a lot of experience working with as many as 60 technicians. After a time working in this laboratory he was confident enough to return home to Bangor and work in a dental laboratory for a private practice dentist. It was here he met a friend who worked with him as a technician When this friend saw the Canadians getting regulation to work independently he began promoting this idea among the technicians. The friend eventually lost interest in the project, but he had set a fire under John and the few other technicians who at that time had gotten on board with the idea of independence. Knowing they could serve people more efficiently with a more personalized, usable and much less expensive product without the “middle man,” the technicians were determined to win their independence. It was happening in Canada and they knew it could happen in Maine. So they organized and started visiting their legislators seeking recognition as independent practitioners.
This did not set well with the Maine Dental Association and who hired a lobbyist. “This guy buried us,” to quote John, “but we learned a good lesson how to lobby, so all was not lost.” The Maine Dental Association, in their efforts to fight the “uprising” began charging the Maine dentists $100 a month to fight this “threat.” That did not set well with the dentists who had been working successfully with these technician.
They went back to the legislators who finally agreed they could use the word “denturist” but to practice they had to go to school and the state was mandated to set up an educational program. Unfortunately, 18 years passed before, Ralph Dhuy, a Maine “denturist” took the initiative to start the procedure to get an educational program established. The state accepted the denturist program offered by George Brown College; this prestigious school established a college program that met and exceeded the educational criteria outlined by the state of Maine and offered an avenue for education for individuals seeking a career as a “denturist” in the United States. The state of Maine legislature finally approved a law that allowed denturists to work as independent practitioners. It was a rough road at first. Even after completion of their education and receiving a license these pioneers were required to obtain a Health Certificate before they could serve a patient. However, it was not long before this extra trip to a dentist or doctor was deemed unnecessary and an extra expense to the patient so the denturists were able to eliminate that requirement. Denturists in Maine have been successful in proving themselves proficient; their scope of practice now includes all removable dental prosthetics, they have their own sub-committee on the state health board, and are on the path to having greater board recognition.
John has been a pivotal individual throughout the years and all of the efforts in Maine. He is the senior member of the denturist subcommittee and continues to be active in promoting the profession. John is one of the last of the Denturist pioneers in Maine. He has a wealth of knowledge of the legislative process having lobbied and contributed to initiation of several bills which became law, including the 1996 law which opened the door for our education and practice. He is tenacious and patient; he never gave up and after enormous effort he along with fellow denturists finally received his “coveted” license to practice independently; at the age of 62 John was graduated from George Brown College.
John is a quiet sort of guy; very unassuming, but has textbook knowledge when it comes to his profession and has unrelenting determination that denturists should be available to serve in every state because denturists are the denture experts; he is proud of his profession He continues to serve patients in his private practice in Etna, Maine. When asked why he worked so hard seeking denturist legislation his inspiring response, “We had a dream; that kept us going.” The denturist profession owes this pioneer our respect and appreciation. To quote a fellow Maine denturist, “John is one of the best friends anyone could ever have. Generous to a fault, John is always there to help when needed. Truly a man to admire.” We are proud and honored to spotlight John Merrill.