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By Linda Thomas
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
He knew in that first week of orientation he wanted to make her his girlfriend.
But from her perspective, it wasn’t something she expected.
In August 2006, Daniel Kazanchkov was in his final year at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. Shauna Basil was starting her first year.
Today, they’re partners professionally, running a husband-and-wife dental practice in Westwood.
He refers to their practice as a “painless dental treatment” for good reason. Both came into the profession in part as a result of childhood traumatic dental related experiences.
In 1985, Daniel was 5 and living in a one-bedroom apartment with his sister and parents in Moldova, a country in Eastern Europe bordered by Romania.
He woke up at 3 in the morning and told his mother his tooth hurt.
“If you stop watching Freddy Krueger movies, your tooth won’t hurt,” he remembers her telling him in their native language.
“I was notorious for watching scary movies,” said the now 36-year-old. “I’d wake my parents up quite a bit and often built a chair fort to sleep next to their bed just to be closer.”
When he woke up again three hours later his face was swollen and puffy. His mother realized that something was terribly wrong and they rushed him to the dentist.
The dentist told his parents Daniel possibly needed a root canal.
Daniel had no idea what was happening or why the tooth hurt or what a root canal was. He just sat in the dental chair, pulled all the way back, while the dentist did what he did.
All without anesthesia. (Back then, unless you brought your own anesthetic, you didn’t get any.)
Four hours passed with much screaming and fainting. Daniel’s mom, hearing her son’s cries, fainted in the waiting room.
“I can still remember the office as clear as day,” he said recently. “I remember a smell … probably Eugenol … knowing what I know today. I remember the sight. I remember the stairway, walking up to the office and coming down.
“When they finished the tooth, they stuck a bunch of metal points inside the tooth … something you just don’t do for a kid’s tooth because kids’ teeth have adult teeth coming from underneath.”
Daniel was 10 when he and his family left Moldova. They were Jews living in a time of heavy persecution in his country, and his parents wanted more for their children than they were able to attain for themselves.
They settled in Boca Raton, Florida. He didn’t speak a word of English until coming to America.
A year later, Daniel lost the tooth — the one with a giant nail inside. The ordeal he experienced six years earlier suddenly came back to him.
He remembers walking down the stairwell and looking up at his mom:
“I’m going to be a dentist,” he told her.
“There’s got to be a better way.”
Shauna was born in 1984, the youngest of three sisters, and grew up in Burlington, Wisconsin.
In December 1987, a month shy of her fourth birthday, she sled down a hill in her backyard, crashing into a table and cutting her tongue.
“I slid underneath a picnic table that had one of those old metal umbrella holders,” she recalls. “And I either cut my tongue more than half way across on that or bit through my tongue. One of my baby teeth got knocked out as well.
“My dad, who is a dentist, grabbed me and he and my mom took me to his office. He tried to have my mom hold my tongue together so he could suture it back up but she was shaking too badly.
“They couldn’t do it together so my dad brought me to the next town over to an oral surgeon who sutured it back together. But because my baby tooth got knocked out and because of the trauma, my adult tooth came in discolored. I had to go through braces, then veneers and crowns to correct the discoloration.”
She still remembers much of what her 4-year-old self went through – her mother’s “red” shirt that actually was stained with blood, the “Lady Lovely Locks” doll her father gave her when she woke up in mid-procedure, looking into the mirror and mistaking the stitches on her tongue for dead grass.
While a student at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Shauna started shadowing physicians and ophthalmologists. But she kept going back to dentistry, mainly because she was more comfortable with the profession, having grown up in her father’s dental practice. Even in eighth grade she worked in his office.
She took a year off between college and dental school to work with her father and volunteered at an underprivileged clinic in Milwaukee.
She enlisted in the Navy, serving four years in South Carolina, California and Illinois. She’s proud of her time in the military, working with her fellow veterans to protect our country — and was able to acknowledge that to her mother before she passed away the last month of her naval career.
First Impressions: Parallel Lives
Daniel spent his whole life on a medical track.
In high school, he volunteered at a hospital pharmacy. He later was certified as a pharmaceutical technician and worked part-time in college.
He attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, coming to the Boston area mostly because his best friend lived here and because he loved hockey.
But he always held the dream of becoming a dentist and attending Tufts.
Then came Shauna.
The moment he first saw Shauna he told his fellow classmates: “She’s going to be my girlfriend.”
They laughed, he recalls.
He walked over and tried to start a conversation.
“Hi, how are you?”
“Fine,” she replied.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“Wisconsin” was all she shared.
“It was like pulling teeth talking to her … with her one-word answers,” he recalls.
That first conversation didn’t go anywhere and his friends smirked and snarled.
He tried to find her midweek but couldn’t.
On Friday, he was packing to leave the next morning for Arizona, where he was to work on a Native American reservation as a volunteer for five weeks. There she was, mingling with friends.
Perhaps as an unconscious move to make her jealous, he struck up a conversation with one of her friends.
“That was the end of us ever knowing anybody else for the rest of eternity,” he said. “I texted her that night to make sure she got home safely. I then flew out to Arizona the next day and we stayed in contact by phone and via email the whole time.
“When I came back from Arizona, I had a girlfriend.”
From The Heart
In 2010, Daniel opened Dental Arts of Westwood. He practices general dentistry and performs root canals — but only on adult teeth.
Though daunting at the time, his childhood experience in the dental chair hasn’t affected how he practices dentistry.
“I never feel bad about it,” he said. “It allows me to control my current situation because when I do dentistry I always feel like I’m in control.”
He says he treats “from the heart,” asking if his patients are comfortable and in any pain.
One patient is Westwood’s Richard Carter, a retired 25-year veteran firefighter with the Westwood Fire Department.
Carter said the first time he sat in Daniel’s dental chair was very different from what he was used to.
“The most notable difference was the technology,” he said. “For example, I had never seen my X-rays on a large screen in front of me before. I even commented to friends it was like stepping into the future.
“All the technology aside, it is Dan’s absolute love of what he does that comes through in his skill and caring,” Carter said.
Before, going to a dentist meant pain for Carter. But when he first came to Daniel he was told, “If you experience pain at the dentist, they’re doing it wrong.”
“I’ve had several root canals and crowns at Dan’s,” Carter said, “and there has been little or no discomfort.”
The one time he developed pain was from an extraction for a planned implant. He “toughed it out” for a few days but finally left a message early one morning that he was in some pain and hoped to get an appointment the next day to deal with it.
“Dan returned my call within minutes,” Carter recalls. “It was his day off and he was on his way to teach a class, but he took the time to open the office to treat me immediately.
“Then he chastised me for not calling him at home on the night when it started. It really bothered him I had the pain and didn’t feel I could or should ‘bother’ him.
“I have not experienced that level of compassion with others in the dental or medical field.”
Daniel opened his practice the year Shauna graduated from Tufts. Before heading off to Navy boot camp, she helped as his front desk representative until he found full-time staff.
Getting through those four years in the military and working with Daniel every day has been rewarding, Shauna said.
The couple shares a home in Norwood with their 18-month-old Shih Tzu, Mishka, and 11-week old Maltipoo, Luna.
At first blush, Shauna was a reluctant partner who rebuffed Daniel’s initial advances. But though they had different backgrounds, they soon found they had more in common than they realized.
Both love the popular phenomenon, “11:11, make a wish.” So, it wasn’t a surprise when they chose the date — 11/11/11 — to be married.
“Being married to each other is something amazing that happened to be a perfect match,” he said. “And a wish come true.”
One Shining Moment
Daniel still remembers that 5-year-old in Moldova, sitting in the dentist’s chair with metal in his tooth.
“That tooth should have been taken out,” he said. “I disagree with the diagnosis as the situation unfolded, but at the same time, I’m grateful for the opportunity that came with it.”
Had it not been for that experience, Daniel says, he likely would not have taken the career path he did.
“That’s the big shining moment of the whole thing,” he said. “I feel like my career was given to me at a very young age … and I never had to wonder what I would have been.
“My mom isn’t a dentist, my dad isn’t a dentist and nobody in my family is in medicine, so I would have had nothing or nobody to guide me down that path.”
And perhaps destiny played a part in pairing Daniel and Shauna.
“Shauna and I had different but congruent childhood stories,” Daniel said.
“But at least she had anesthesia.”
Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes for Hometown Weekly Publications. For comments and suggestions, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.