‘I don’t feel old’: Central Texas man believed to be oldest practicing dentist in U.S. has no plans to retire soon

Published: Oct. 25, 2022 at 6:12 PM CDT
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GOLDTHWAITE, Texas (KWTX) - A Central Texas dentist born at the height of the Great Depression says genetics and a genuine love for his patients has kept him working nearly 70 years, five days a week, and he has no plans of retiring anytime soon.

Robert Henry Johnson, 90, is believed to be the oldest practicing dentist in the United States.

“It makes me feel good,” Dr. Johnson said when reached by phone. “It makes me feel good because I don’t feel old. In fact, I’m fixing to go to work right now.”

Robert Henry was born in the house where he was raised 10 miles south of Goldthwaite in 1931 to parents who farmed and ranched.

“I was raised very poor,” he said. “We were on a farm down there, had no running water, had no electricity in Goldthwaite, Texas, out in the country.”

“We got to go to town on Saturday and you’d get a dime to go to town. You’d get six cents to go to the show and four cents to spend otherwise and, boy, a penny would buy a lot of candy back then.”

Johnson had a driver’s license at the age of 12, the same year he also decided on the profession which he would ultimately pursue of dentistry.

As a young boy, Johnson had encounters with two successful dentists in Goldthwaite who made lasting impressions on him and that’s when he decided he wanted to follow in their footsteps.

“At Goldthwaite, our dentist there was in the same church I was in, a real church leader and a real Boy Scout leader and I was an Eagle Scout, and he was kind of an idol to me, and he had a big place out there and that’s kind of what led me there. I thought there’s two pretty good men.”

Johnson graduated Goldthwaite High School in 1949 and had to get creative to afford a higher education.

“I started showing calves in high school, and I had the grand champion steer in Houston, and grand champion steer in Fort Worth, but that was about $27,000 worth of steers I sold, and we didn’t have anything, that’s what gave me the money to be able to get an education,” Johnson recalls.

Johnson attended Baylor University from 1949 to 1952 and left with not only a degree, but a girlfriend named Pat, who was Baylor’s Homecoming Queen.

Johnson was accepted into Baylor Dental School and graduated in 1956, the same year he married Pat, who is just six months younger.

The dentist first worked at Biggs Airforce Base, now called Biggs Army Airfield, in El Paso, before starting his own practice in Big Spring in West Texas, where he worked for 13 years.

In 1970, the Johnsons would make their final stop in Brownwood, where Dr. Johnson opened up one-man practice in which he still works today.

Johnson said he has seen thousands of patients over the nearly 70 years he’s practiced, many whom he’s had a friendship with for half a century or more.

He says good genes, sitting as often as he can while working, and two vodkas an evening with Pat, has helped his longevity at the office and overall excellent health.

He still golfs and works on the ranch almost daily.

While Johnson says the practice of dentistry has changed in so many ways with new technology and advancements during his career, one thing has not changed, and that’s his love for patients.

“Money is not the answer to the deal. It’s the love of your patients that you’ve had for 50 years when they come in and say, ‘what am I going to do when you retire?’ And they mean it.”

“I mean, if they’ve been coming to you for 50 years. ‘Where am I going to go?’ And I say, ‘see those hands, when they get like that,” he said clinching his hands. “I’ll retire.”

“I’ve just been seeing them for so long that we love each other,” he said. “It’s like family.”

Dr. Johnson will turn 91 on November 25.

You can watch a full interview with Dr. Johnson and Waco dentist, Dr. Steve Cutbirth, HERE.