TAMPA, Fla. — Missing teeth have been associated with ruthless hockey for decades.
One of the strangest cases of missing chiclets for Tampa Bay Lightning team dentist Dr. Gil Rivera happened in October 2016 to then-goalkeeper Ben Bishop.
“The puck actually hit his mask and dislodged his chin bar,” Dr. Rivera said. “He had so much strength that the chin bar came up and knocked his teeth out.”
Dr. Rivera has been the team dentist for twenty years. He started helping the team in 2002 after joining 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 lead dentist.
“It wasn’t something I was looking 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 molds of each player’s teeth.
“The coach will tell me which players need a mouth guard,” Dr Rivera said. “If I have the mould, we have to grab it and make it by hand.”
Dr. Rivera had no idea his career would take him to the bloody front lines of the Amalie Arena.
“It was one of those beautiful surprises in life that you get, that you don’t ask for,” he said. “My career would be less fun if that didn’t happen to me.”
During home games, Dr. Rivera sits behind the bench, next to the tunnel. But he looks at the game a little differently from the fans around him.
“When they start fighting, that’s when I cringe the most,” he said. “It’s something you could avoid. When they start fighting, that’s when I tense up. The other things they just can’t do much about.
Most of his work involves treating blunt trauma to the mouth, such as chipped or broken teeth. For example, on April 26 against Columbus, Erik Cernak took a puck in the face.
“The puck tore his skin and into his gumline,” Dr. Rivera said. “He was in a lot of pain. But he was on the ice the next game.
Dr. Rivera’s work is so vital to the health of the team, but it can also mean the difference between a win and a loss.
“They are very nervous, very restless,” he described when a player needs work during a match. “They’re like how long is on the clock. Can I go back before the end of the period? Their buddies sometimes come over and watch them while we’re sewing their lips together.
“You have to throw away the normal patient rulebook.”
But then again, a normal dentist doesn’t have three Stanley Cup rings.