Shawnee Mission Faces: John Faerber, long-time Prairie Village dentist and trout fisherman

Wearing masks has been the norm for the past year during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But for dentists like John Faerber, who owns a private practice in Prairie Village, masks have been part of the deal for decades.

A lifelong dentist for 39 years, he took over the practice from his father, H. Jack Faerber, who first opened it in 1961 in Mission.

Born and raised in Overland Park, John Faerber graduated from Shawnee Mission South in 1974. He earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and completed his requirements for dental school at the same time, earning his credentials from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. Fun fact: He sends his patients to his brother, Tom Faerber, who is an oral surgeon.

Outside of dentistry, John Faerber enjoys fishing (mostly trout and bass) and vegetable gardening. He lives in Prairie Village with his wife of 30 years, Kate Faerber. They have three grown sons.

We all need to wear masks. I firmly am aligned with what the CDC recommends and our association, American Dental Association, as well. I go by their guidelines. I think masks have definitely reduced transmissions; there’s no doubt about it.

In dental school, we did not wear masks or gloves unless we were doing dental surgery — tooth extractions or anything like that. So then when I graduated in 1982, AIDS came around shortly after that, probably in the early to mid-80s, and so we had to adapt and move forward and wear gloves and masks full time.

And there was a big shortage back then, kind of like there was this past year, a big shortage of gloves. I taught out of Johnson County, Juco, in the dental hygiene program, one day a week as I was starting to get my practice going. So we were in short supply gloves out there too.

So then, from that point on, it was gloves full time and masks full time, eye protection.

It took a little while to get used to it, and I can tell you because there were a lot of dentists like my dad who retired about then; a lot of my dad’s dental buddies retired because of the changes coming up, wearing gloves and masks. And they were stand-up dentists, you know, kind of old school, and for their whole career, they never wore gloves or masks. They were called “wet finger” dentists, I guess.

There were dangers to that, getting hepatitis and things like that, which is another reason we need to wear gloves.

In dentistry, we always look like people are contagious, whether it’s hepatitis, a cold, the flu, COVID, AIDS, all these things. You just assume that they might be carrying something, so you dress appropriately for every patient the same way: Masks, gloves, face shields, sometimes, for my hygienists, that sort of thing.

I think March 17th, 2020, was our last full day here. We were waiting for directions from the CDC, American Dental Association, as far as what to do. Having to furlough most of my staff for six weeks, that had to do with the governor shutting us down. The governor kind of shut down everything.

So we were trying to find out who do we answer to — Kansas Dental Association, Kansas Dental Board — but ultimately, it was the governor that made the decision. And so we were shut down from March 17th to May 5th.

I felt, gosh, kind of bewildered, I guess. I knew we would eventually be practicing again; it was just a matter of how long is this going to go till we get a handle on everything, and we have the right guidelines to be practicing again.

Obviously, staff coming back were hesitant, which is understandable, because of what precautions were we going to take, and we installed HEPA filters — air filtrations — in each room.

And definitely, it was hard to get a hold of a lot of what you call PPE — face shields, gloves, masks, that kind of stuff — because everybody needed it all at once. And so, we were coming up with different methodologies on how to assure our patients that it was a safe environment.

And a lot of this information that I implemented in my office I got from my brother and other dentists. We kind of talked with each other, OK, which direction are you going to go for your office to make your patients understand that we’re doing everything we can?

It’s a little difficult talking and having patients hear you. We routinely wear masks in my office, and we were used to that before COVID came along.

The only time we took our mask off was if we were leaving the building to go for lunch or I was back here in my private office with my door shut. But other than that, we never took our mask off in between patients or conversing with each other, my staff, when COVID initiated.

Last year, we had probably over 3,000 visits for the whole year for our practice. And nobody had COVID in our office, none of our staff ever had it, with all the precautions. So we feel real good about that. Probably 15%-plus of our patients stayed away last year because of obvious concerns, and I totally get that.

Probably since March 1, we’ve noticed a big increase of patients coming back, ‘cause so many more are getting vaccinated.

I think staff morale is good. I think we know that we’re heading in a good direction with vaccinations. We had our second vaccine Feb. 3rd.

You know, I feel like I’m always touching on positive aspects with my staff and my patients about hey we’re moving forward, we’re going to be back to traveling and going back to restaurants, and getting back to doing normal things, seeing more family again, all of these things that we’ve wanted to.

We had some times last year where patients called and said they had COVID, or they had somebody home quarantining, could they come in, course they couldn’t. But with all the precautions we took — and like I said, you assume everybody has COVID ‘cause they could have been asymptomatic, especially college kids, who knows — but we never had anybody that got COVID, which was great.

I think dentistry has done a great job moving forward and acclimating to the changing environment as far as protecting patients and protecting the dentists and their staff at the same time. American Dental Association I think has done a great job representing us and keeping up daily. I get a daily email on what’s going on state to state, and everything in the country, as far as what we need to do to ensure safety in our offices.

It’s nice to have last year behind us. We’re all in the same boat. And I feel very confident and optimistic that we are moving in a very good direction.