After taking care of teeth for three generations of Forest Parkers, Dr. Arnold Clevs and his wife, Batia, shuttered their dentistry practice in the little brick building at 334 Circle at the end of June.
Clevs began teaching and doing research at the University of Illinois Chicago in 1954, after finishing a two-year commitment as an Air Force dentist. He was happy at the university and had no intention of going into private practice. Then a dentist in Forest Park fell ill and needed someone to fill in for him.
“Just for a few evenings and on Saturdays — how I ended up here for 54 years,” he explained. “Unfortunately, he passed away very quickly, and I was faced with a hard decision: remain at the university or go full time here. I couldn’t do both.”
Clevs bought the building and the practice for $25,000 and got to work.
Over the next 54 years, Clevs said, his experiences with Forest Parkers were very positive.
“The people here have been fantastic,” he said. “They have been loyal, good, kind and honest. This is why I’ve stayed here.”
Clevs has seen many changes in the practice of dentistry over his half-century in Forest Park. The biggest difference, he said, is in the materials he uses to repair teeth. When he first started, porcelain fillings in the front teeth would wash out readily and have to be replaced every few years. The fillings were very acidic to the teeth; his patients would wind up with more root canals than they do now.
The equipment in the practice he bought included only a low-speed drill, which he quickly replaced with the high-speed kind he had gotten used to in the Air Force. He also noted that new pain-relieving medications have made a trip to the dentist much more comfortable.
“The anesthetic we now use is much more penetrating,” he said, “so you get better anesthesia than we had with the old kind.”
He acknowledged an equally important change in the care to teeth had nothing to do with the skill, materials or equipment of dentists themselves.
“In the beginning,” Clevs said, “I used to see so many people with so many cavities, but with the introduction of fluoride in the water in the early 1960s, cavities diminished considerably.”
While Clevs focused on professional changes, his wife, Batia, who has served as his assistant for the last 25 years, remarked on how much Forest Park has changed.
“When I started working for Dr. Clevs,” she recalled, “there were no nice stores or restaurants in Forest Park. Madison Street was all bars. Now we have so many wonderful restaurants, clothing stores and shoe stores. There are wonderful beauty shops. A woman doesn’t have to travel far to get all the things she needs.”
Saying goodbye for the pair has been very difficult.
“We have patients who have been coming to us for 50 years,” Batia said. “They have become more than patients. They have become like family. It’s extremely emotional for us.”
But Dr. Clevs does have some plans for retirement.
“Hopefully I’ll do some traveling,” he said. “I especially want to visit Jerusalem. I plan to do a lot of reading and maybe write my memoirs.”
The practice is being taken over by Dr. Lawrence Fine, whose office is at 1100 Lake St. in Oak Park. The Clevs are planning to sell the property on Circle Avenue.