Open Wide and Say 'Mom'

Jean Merry

Asked how she landed the position of attending dentist for the Minnesota Vikings, Jean Merry, D.D.S., (’84), laughs light-heartedly.

“My dad challenged me to become the Vikings’ dentist,” she says. “I sent the team a letter, told them my office was nearby (Merry Dental Care is located in Eden Prairie, not far from the team’s training facility) and would like to talk to them.”

Her timing was fortuitous. The year was 1987 and the Vikings were looking for a dentist. Shortly after she mailed the letter, team officials paid a visit at her office. “It was all very casual back then. Now things like this tend to be handled in a much more formal way with NFL guidelines laying out what has to be done.”

Merry jerseyAt the time, Merry, who’d been class president her senior year of dental school, was a member of the School of Dentistry faculty, where she worked until 1992 conducting research and teaching oral diagnosis and emergency dentistry, among other subjects.

She agreed to conduct dental exams and make mouthguards for Vikings players prior to the team’s first mini-camp in June, then attend to players’ dental needs, as requested, during the rest of training and throughout the season. Today, she carries out that task with the assistance of her associate, Kelsey Sharpe, D.D.S. (Creighton University).

Over the course of the year, they see a number of players for a variety of dental needs. While the team has its own field dentist, she makes herself available to players round-the-clock.

“If somebody needs to see me at 6 o’clock in the morning on a game-day Sunday and I get the call, I’ll be there,” she says.

So what do friends, associates and patients think about her dental relationship with one of Minnesota’s most cherished icons? “People are more impressed than they ought to be,” she says drily.

At the same time, she acknowledges that the association has brought special recognition.

Sometimes, publicity has been showered upon her in unlikely ways, as when a member of the team encountered her in a busy restaurant, picked her up in his arms, and carried her around the establishment. In general, however, players display their appreciation in subtler ways.

“A number of them treat me like a mom,” she says. “They’ll come to my office and chat and tell me what’s happening in their lives.

“That’s what’s really special to me.”