I visited my dentist Mark (a Fairfield resident) earlier this week for my regular three-month appointment and, as always, he likes to admire the work he did to save my once neglected mouth. I have remained grateful for the past five-and-a-half years since I saw Mark for the first time.

During his regular post hygienist check, he noticed that two of my front teeth were, in his words, thinning out and he wanted me to consider bonding as a way to keep the teeth from cracking and creating an uneven and rather unpleasant look. He asked if I could stay that day, but I had other things to do so I made a separate appointment.

We originally met at Penny’s diner where I was a regular for years, and we became diner friends. But our routines never changed. Mark was there every day early in the morning and so was I before heading over to my subbing jobs in Fairfield. We always exchanged brief pleasantries, but Mark had his booth (he still does) and I had my booth (these days, I come in less frequently but still try for my spot).

Some two years after Mark and I met at the diner, my dentist, Steve Ronis, was retiring and a new dentist was taking over. But I wasn’t totally convinced I wanted to stay with the practice. Ironically, in all the conversations we’d had, we rarely discussed dentistry or Mark’s practice.

I decided to leave the new dental practice, but I allowed a year to elapse before I sat down one morning in Mark’s private booth at Penny’s and asked if he was taking any new patients. The following Tuesday I was in his office for my first cleaning and I felt very much at home.

It was hardly a pretty visit. My year of neglect had wreaked havoc on my mouth and Mark’s hygienist Kristin politely but firmly told me that she could only hope to fix the damage with three-month appointments. When Mark came in, he focused on the three or four teeth with periodontal previews — pockets that were between 5 and 6 centimeters.

That scraping and cleaning definitely put Kristen through her paces. By the time I left, I was practically in tears from the pain. But I had learned my lesson about taking better care of my mouth.

Then I made a separate appointment with Mark to fix a problem in the bottom back tooth. At the time, our close friend Joyce was Mark’s assistant and the two of them worked feverishly to salvage the tooth and rebuild. He was desperately trying to avert a root canal or something more extreme. And by the time I left, nearly two-hours and nearly $5,000 later, my mouth was feeling gradually back to normal.

As I recall, there was one more appointment to repair a cavity, and Mark was thrilled with how the rebuilt tooth area was looking. He definitely felt it was a trophy win for him and my mouth and I will be eternally grateful to Mark for restoring the tooth. I’m always happy to see my dentist smiling, particularly when the results were positive.

Deciding to use Mark as my dentist was definitely one of the best decisions I could have made and one of the best lessons I could have learned about the importance of proper oral hygiene. I’ve seen the pockets my four problem teeth shrink to nearly normal, I faithfully keep my three-month appointments and Kristin has continued to be very encouraging.

Above everything else, I’ve learned how close I really came to major periodontal repair work on my teeth and have been totally focused over the 5-plus years I’ve been seeing Mark on keeping my teeth for the rest of my life, if that’s still possible.

These days, whenever I stop by Penny’s before my regular haircut, on a Saturday morning and Mark is there, we exchange our usual pleasantries but he always footnotes the conversation by saying how terrific my mouth looks. And I never hesitate to say, “That’s because we turned a diner friendship into a long-term professional relationship. Thanks for that, Mark. See you in a couple of months.”

And the smile on his face says it all.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at stevengaynes44@gmail.com