TAMPA, Fla. — Missing teeth have been associated with hard-nosed hockey for decades.
One of the strangest cases of missing chiclets for Tampa Bay Lightning team dentist Dr. Gil Rivera happened in Oct. 2016 to then-goalie, Ben Bishop.
“The puck actually hit his mask and dislodged his chin strap,” Dr. Rivera said. “It had so much force the chin strap came up and knocked his teeth out.”
Dr. Rivera has been the team’s dentist for twenty years. He started helping with the team in 2002 after he joined the dental practice of Doctors Sam and Vince Caranate, two brothers who were the team’s dentists. Dr. Rivera purchased the practice in 2007, becoming the team’s primary dentist.
“It wasn’t something I was seeking to do,” he told ABC Action News Sports Anchor Kyle Burger. “I never thought it would be part of my dental career.”
There’s a framed photo of his staff with the Stanley Cup on his office wall and a closet full of stone-cast molds of each player’s teeth.
“The trainer will tell me which players need a mouth guard,” Dr. Rivera said. “If I have the mold, we have to grab it and make it by hand.”
Dr. Rivera had no idea his career would take him to the bloodied front lines at Amalie Arena.
“It was one of those nice life surprises that you get, that you don’t ask for,” he said. “My career would be less fun if this didn’t happen to me.”
During home games, Dr. Rivera sits behind the bench, next to the tunnel. But he’s watching the game a little bit differently than the fans around him.
“When they start fighting, that’s when I cringe the most,” he said. “It’s a thing you could avoid. When they start to fight, that’s when I tense up. The other stuff they just can’t do much about.”
Most of the work he does revolves around treating blunt-force trauma to the mouth— like chipped or knocked-out teeth. For example, on April 26 against Columbus, Erik Cernak took a puck to the face.
“The puck tore through his skin and into his gum,” Dr. Rivera said. “He was in a lot of pain. But he was on the ice the very next game.”
Dr. Rivera’s work is so vital to the team’s health, but it also can be the difference a win and a loss.
“They are very antsy, very fidgety,” he described when a player needs work done during a game. “They’re like how much time’s on the clock. Can I get back out there before the period ends? Their buddies are coming in sometimes and checking up on them while we are in the middle of sewing their lips.
“You have to throw out the normal patient rule book.”
But then again, a normal dentist doesn’t have three Stanley Cup rings.