by Kristen Wright, Associate Editor
“Dr. Fae”Ahlstrom shares how dentistry used to be, the changes she welcomes, and how she spends her retirement years in sunny, sandy Henderson, Nevada.
She was born Jan. 1, 1917 - before the ’20s roared, the stockmarket plummeted, and Las Vegas had legalized gambling. Dr. Fae Ahlstrom, a retired pedodontist living in Henderson, Nev., has seen many changes in the world and dentistry.
“I grew up in Rockville, Utah,” Dr. Ahlstrom said. “When I went to high school, I was only 13 years of age. Of course, I had to move away from home to go to high school. It was about 35 miles away. I came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
From there, she earned an associate’s degree in arts at Dixie State College in St. George, Utah. Back then it was a two-year school, but now it’s a four-year school. And after that, she attended dental school at the University of Southern California, L.A.
“When I graduated, I married my husband, who was a dentist I worked for,” Dr. Ahlstrom said. “I worked as a dental assistant for one summer. My husband knew he’d have to go into the service, so I went to California until he got out in ’45. We moved to Boulder City, Nevada, where I practiced until 1965. I was the only pedodontist. It was a great specialty. I could only take referrals and problem patients.
“All told, outside of the first years I was in practice, I only practiced a half day until my children were in kindergarten. I practiced four days a week until I retired in 1985.”
Dr. Ahlstrom has three children. Dr. Robert and Daniel Ahlstrom, both of San Francisco, and Jacqueline Trusty, of Henderson.
Robert maintains a private prosthodontics practice in Reno, Nev., and is a full-time faculty member at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco, where he is the director of the Implant Clinic.
“My mother is a very special lady,” Dr. Robert Ahlstrom said. “She has provided a leadership role for me, my brother, and sister. She has shown us the right way to raise a family, and we benefit from her knowledge, guidance, patience, and humor. She has always strived to provide us with the framework to become better people by setting the example for us to follow. From a professional standpoint, she has devoted herself to the dental profession from patient care to organized dentistry and given me a star to shoot for. Her involvement and energy have been legendary within our family - personally and professionally. Dr. Fae - our affectionate term for Mom - has shown me that anything is possible if you set your goals and desires.”
For four years, she did all of it as a single mother.
“My first husband, who was the father of my children, died in ’69,” she said. “I married Vic Jenacaro in 1973. He’s Italian. He loves to fish, and I love to fish, and we bought a property in Canada. We just sold it. We used to fish on Lake Meade, but constraints on the body keep you from doing the things you like doing.
“We have a fairly new house we just built three years ago, and we’re still moving in. There are only six houses in this courtyard. We live in Old Vegas Estates on Rat Pack Avenue. You wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world with that address.
“After you retire - and I’ve been retired for 21 years - the things you enjoy the most are your children and friends. Hello to all my women dental friends! I don’t know if some of my friends are even alive.”
She said she hopes some of her longtime friends, one of whom is Jane Selbe, will see this article and re-establish contact with her.
“As far as dentistry is concerned, I enjoy talking about dentistry, but that was my past, and I don’t dwell too much on it,” Dr. Ahlstrom said. “It’s changed tremendously. I didn’t have to market myself, I was so busy. I tried to get someone to come into practice with me for many years. I never was able to get anyone because when they spent that much time in school, I don’t think they wanted a woman supervising them. And I don’t think many who were board-certified wanted to move.”
She welcomes changes such as more women becoming dentists. She also saw many advances in dental equipment.
“The types of dental instruments we used - drills, rather - were not high-speed. When high-speed came in, it was quite a revelation. I lost the hearing in one of my ears, and I thought maybe drills were the cause of it, but studies never concluded that.”
But hearing loss doesn’t keep her from having fun and staying young. Dr. Ahlstrom has become a student and enjoys taking weekly organ lessons.
“I have a Lowrey organ, and it has all kinds of instruments in it, and you just press a button and the instrument plays,” she said. “You’ve got to understand, my hearing is not that great, but it sure sounds good to me. It also has a karaoke aspect to it. We attached the T.V. to it. There are about 130 songs with the words on the T.V. I was never able to play quite well, but my mother was musical. Her family came from Wales. After I had my children, I was interested in playing.”
Dr. Ahlstrom also enjoys gardening and touts the many activities Las Vegas and the surrounding communities offer to people of all ages. It’s fitting to ask a wise, well-rounded dentist to share any advice with the younger women dentists.
“Well,” she said, “probably if they knew how old I was, they wouldn’t pay attention to it.”
After a chuckle, she continued, “Pay attention to your health and diet. And there is one thing that helped me. I was afraid to talk and I was shy, so I attended Toastmasters in Boulder City. It helped me.
“My life has been very good. I’m sure there are things I would change if I could, but we can’t. I think it’s wonderful we have more women in dentistry. I appreciate all the women doing the other kinds of dentistry. I think, specifically, God made us a little more caring.”