Coreen Anderson didn’t want to see the dentist.
He turned her into a regular; between 2006 and 2009, she saw him often. And while the work could be extensive — four cavities and at least one crown — she came to almost enjoy her visits.
Recently, however, when she spotted him at a Flagstaff antique store, she ducked out of the way. This time, she didn’t want the dentist to see her.
“I was with my friend,” she recalled, “And I turned to her and said, ‘What the hell happened to Paul Gosar?’ ”
You may have seen Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar in footage from Jan. 6, standing on the floor of the House of Representatives — an American flag mask hanging beneath his nose, his head bobbing up and down — objecting to the certification of Joe Biden’s presidency on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, shortly before insurrectionists attempted to break into the chamber to do the same. Gosar has devoted himself to former president Donald Trump’s false claims about his election loss, promoting “Stop the Steal” rallies, referring to President Biden as “an illegitimate usurper” and calling the angry masses who laid siege to the Capitol “peaceful patriots.”
If oral health is a good indicator of overall health, it’s fair to wonder about the state of the Republican Party with Gosar as a mouthpiece.
He’s tweeted eulogistically about Ashli Babbitt, a woman whose enthusiasm for QAnon — a sprawling set of false claims that have coalesced into an extremist ideology that has radicalized its followers — inspired her to storm the Capitol, where she was shot and killed by a Capitol Police officer while trying to climb through the broken window of a barricaded door outside the Speaker’s Lobby.
“They took her life,” the congressman wrote, apparently quoting a U2 song that was written about Martin Luther King Jr. “They could not take her pride.”
On top of his affection for the Jan. 6 rioters, Gosar has attended multiple events with Nick Fuentes, a white-nationalist activist who has described Gosar’s membership in Congress as a reason for hope.
Gosar’s evolution from the Arizona Dental Association’s 2001 Dentist of the Year to a conspiracy-minded, race-baiting congressman isn’t exactly surprising to anyone paying attention to today’s GOP and its associated right-wing media personalities, whose adoption of Trump’s personal bugbears has made conspiracy theorists of many rank-and-file Republicans.
And yet, to the people who knew Gosar as a mild-mannered dentist, it all feels shocking.
“Gosar the dentist had to be the real Paul Gosar,” said Anderson, the patient who became loyal to him due to his gentle, careful, nonjudgmental style. “It had to be. There’s no way that person was fake. Did he get brainwashed? Did the power get to this head? I honestly don’t know what could have happened.”
Gosar’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The dental profession, meanwhile, has been at pains to resolve its enthusiasm for having a dentist in Congress with the awkwardness of seeing that dentist using his profile to undermine public faith in elections. On Sunday, trustees of the American Dental Association determined that their political action committee should suspend future contributions to Gosar. Dentists who have known him for years have reprimanded him, both publicly and privately.
Among his patients, especially the liberal ones, the transformation of their favorite dentist has left a sour taste in their mouths.
“He did a nice little job on a color match to make a denture tooth match the rest of my teeth,” said Craig Beeson. “But now I’m repulsed thinking about it.”
“It’s really awful,” said Joseph Harte, a retired Episcopal priest who had a tooth yanked by Gosar. “To think of him putting his hands in my mouth just gives me the creeps.”
Andy Kruse was never creeped out by Gosar's politics when he used to visit his office for checkups, although it was clear they didn't see exactly eye to eye politically.
“We’d have some debates — ribbing sessions, really,” said Kruse, a Democrat and businessman in the renewable energy field. “You don’t want to have a real argument with your dentist though. You’re in a pretty vulnerable position.”
Kruse was happy with Gosar’s dental care and willing to tolerate his politics, which didn’t seem too extreme at the time. In fact, the two men went out for dinner after Gosar went to Congress in 2011, and “I got the sense he wanted to ask me to join his team,” Kruse recalled.
According to Kruse, Gosar raised an issue that had more to do with his former profession than any conservative red meat. “One of the things we talked about was the work he was doing to make sure hygienists in places like rural Alaska were not allowed to pull teeth,” Kruse said. “He wanted to make sure only dentists could do that.”
Kruse said he asked how that was fair to a person in extreme pain who might have to wait days for a dentist to show up.
“He said, ‘That’s not important,’ ” Kruse recalled. “He said, ‘What’s important is if removing teeth is done by the wrong hands it can do lots of damage.’ ”
The same principle could be applied to U.S. lawmakers, whose words and deeds can shave the enamel off democratic institutions if they’re not careful.
“I wish he had just stayed a dentist,” said Kruse, who said he has not been able to find a replacement who can match Gosar’s touch. “He was a much better dentist than he is a politician.”
Grace Gosar, who has spoken out against her brother’s politics, said Paul became a dentist in part because he had two uncles in the field, and he became a politician in large part through his work as an active member of the American Dental Association (ADA). From 2004 to 2005 he served as president of the Arizona Dental Association, a constituent society of the ADA.
Since 2010 the ADA has donated more than $75,000 to Gosar, which makes the association his top donor. Some dentists were thrilled to have one of their own in Congress. “Needless to say, his experience as a dentist has made him well equipped to deal with the daily challenges of life in the federal government,” cheered a 2011 article from the magazine Dentaltown.
And when it comes to certain policies, the Arizona representative has delivered: Last year, Gosar achieved something that dentists had been dreaming about for years: repealing a provision of the McCarran-Ferguson Act of 1945 that allowed health and dental insurance companies an exemption from federal antitrust law. The specifics are wonky, but basically it helped dentists wrestle some control back from insurance companies, who they felt had an unfair advantage over them and their patients.
“That was the holy grail,” said David Lurye, a retired dentist from Colorado, who has known Gosar for 20 years. “No matter what else Paul does, he’ll have clout with some dentists who will point to this, as if the violation of ethical norms is a small price to pay.”
Not so for Lurye, who said he’s been fed up with Gosar’s behavior for years. He recalled a run-in with Gosar back in 2015, after Gosar made headlines as the only member of Congress to boycott a visit from the pope. The Arizona congressman was upset at the pontiff for acknowledging the threat of human-driven climate change and had accused him of trying to “guilt people into leftist policies.”
Lurye was on Capitol Hill for a lobbying visit when he ran into his old friend, whom he worried was giving their profession a bad name.
“I grabbed him by the tie,” he said. “And I told him, ‘You may be representing your constituents. But you’re a dentist, and you’ve got to be mindful of that.’ ”
The ADA in the past has brushed aside controversy regarding Gosar, saying it will continue to support politicians who support its causes. But after three of Gosar’s siblings appeared in an ad, featuring the hashtag #CallYourDentist, that encouraged the ADA and other dental groups to cut ties with the congressman, the association recently did just that.
On announcing the move, which was first reported by Vice News, the association said it would only support politicians with whom its core values of integrity, diversity and inclusion were “in alignment.”
Grace Gosar doesn’t think her brother got brainwashed, or that there’s some sort of Dr. Jekyll DDS and Rep. Hyde situation going on.
“I don’t think he flipped, or that he’s one person at home and another in the world,” she told The Washington Post. “I think politics has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, and it pays to try and get as much attention as you can.”
Grace, who has appeared in political ads with multiple siblings denouncing Paul, said she finds her brother’s recent behavior to be particularly “harebrained, stupid, offensive and racist,” but that it didn’t come from nowhere. Growing up in a conservative family in the conservative town of Pinedale, Wyo., Paul, Grace said, is very much a product of his upbringing.
“I can remember racist comments, I can remember homophobic comments, definitely I can remember sexist comments,” she said. “But that wasn’t just Paul, it was our community. Has he become more of an extreme version now? Hell, yeah.”
Coreen Anderson, the former patient, is embarrassed to admit it now, but when Gosar first ran for office she voted for him.
She was a liberal Democrat, and he was a Republican, but he had been so good to her and her family. He’d recommended fluoride water for her son to drink to make up for the lack of fluoride in the tap water. He’d remembered that she got married between visits and seemed genuinely excited for her. And his dental care was top-notch. “I have a really small mouth,” said Anderson. “And he was just so good with the heat and ice packs to keep me comfortable.”
To this day she’s never had a better dentist, something that only makes his recent turn all the more “heartbreaking.”
“It sickens me,” she said. “I referred people to him.”