Several years before Dr. Michael McDaniels began practicing dentistry in Crossett, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the National Aeronautics and Space Act into law, creating NASA, and introduced the first U.S. astronauts. Like many young men during that era, McDaniels was interested in astronauts, space travel, and science.
McDaniels had received a scholarship from the Crossett Company (Georgia Pacific) to attend the University of Arkansas where he was studying chemical engineering, but while working summers during college at the paper mill he decided to do something different. He chose dentistry.
While in dental school, he considered switching to medicine but due to his scholarship constraints he decided to finish dental school. Dr. McDaniels received his dental degree from the Washington School of Dentistry in St. Louis and opened a dental practice in Crossett in 1962. He remained in private practice until 2003 when he joined Mainline Health Systems providing dental services to many who could not otherwise receive good dental care.
“He has a heart of gold,” said McDaniel’s wife of 46 years, Sherman. “He loves helping people that couldn’t receive help without Mainline. We have had no regrets about him leaving private practice to join Mainline. He loves what he does.”
While at Mainline, Dr. McDaniels served in many roles, including dental director. He even served as clinical director at one time when there was an immediate need.
Over the last 57 years, Dr. McDaniels has seen a number of advances and improvements in dental care as science and technology advanced. The biggest change, he says, was the addition of fluoride to public water systems.
When he began practicing dentistry in Crossett, he spoke to both the Crossett City Council and Hamburg City Council encouraging them to fluoride treat the water. They agreed to do so.
Dental health is much better and the dental experience is much more pleasant now. “There is not as much decay and people aren’t as scared,” he said.
His greatest challenge as a dentist was treating young children before sedation. “Sedation made a big difference in treating some of the younger kids,” he said.
The greatest reward was his patients’ smiles.
“It’s a good feeling when you see a patient and they are happy with what you have done,” he said. “They feel good and you feel good. It makes you feel good when someone smiles at you.”
Dr. McDaniels retired this week, ending more than a half-century of providing dental services in Southeast Arkansas, the last 16 at Mainline Health Systems.
“Mainline has been so wonderful to me,” he said.
Upon Dr. McDaniels’ retirement, Mainline CEO Allan Nichols said “Dr. Mike” is among “the most loyal and kind people” that he has ever known.
“He puts others ahead of himself almost always,” Nichols said. “Our patients and the delta region are blessed that he made the decision years ago to come out of private practice and serve here. I am blessed that I had his counsel while I have been in this role.”
Dr. McDaniels, the father of four children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, has also made time to serve his church and community, something he plans to continue in retirement.
In addition to teaching a Sunday school class at the First Baptist Church in Crossett for many years, Dr. McDaniels was the president of the Southeast Arkansas Dental Association when he was in private practice, past president of Crossett Rotary, president of the Prairie Country Club, head of United Way, president of the Heart Association of Southeast Arkansas and on staff at Ashley County Medical Center.
McDaniels has lived in Crossett nearly his entire life. His parents were from Warren, where he was born, and moved to Crossett when McDaniels was three months old. His father played on the Crossett Company’s semi-pro baseball team and worked on the “machine.” He said all of the paper mills had semi-pro baseball teams then.
McDaniels loves the St. Louis Cardinals, fishing, golf, tennis, reading, and studying. He is a Life Master duplicate bridge player and has his private pilot license, hobbies that will keep him busy in retirement.
While he never did any space travel, Dr. McDaniels plans to do some traveling (a little closer to home). “I would love to visit Israel,” he said.