Marco Rubio had good reason to be late for his campaign gathering at Sun City Hilton Head on Thursday morning — a dentist's appointment.
The senator from Florida needed a temporary fix at Hughes Dental Group after he broke a tooth on a frozen Twix bar in New Hampshire.
Dr. Daniel Hughes opened his Okatie practice at 7 a.m. Thursday, an hour earlier than usual, to accommodate the Republican presidential hopeful.
“It was crazy,” Hughes said.
Hughes has no idea how Rubio’s staff found his office, just outside Sun City on William Pope Drive, but assumes they were the closest result on Google for dentists near the retirement community.
"He didn't even know what town he was in," Hughes said.
Hughes’ receptionist Barbara Valenchis received a call from a staffer in Rubio’s campaign around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday. The staffer didn’t identify Rubio, but told her they were looking for a dentist to fix a tooth for someone passing through.
By then, the office had closed and Hughes was on his way home.
When the staffer called back and told them the person needing the appointment was none other than Rubio, she offered to have Hughes turn around and reopen the office. Rubio and his family weren't expected to arrive until almost 10:30 p.m. Wednesday, so the appointment was delayed until Thursday morning.
Valenchis said she never doubted the call was actually for the presidential hopeful.
“It’s kind of crazy,” she said. “I don’t know why the staffer didn't say it was for (Rubio) when they first called. They didn’t say who it was, but I took it seriously once they did. I guess I’m too trusting of people.”
Daria Paterson, whose agency handles marketing for Hughes’ dental practice, joked it was “a political appointment.”
Rubio arrived about five minutes before the appointment with one staff member in tow.
“He was very friendly, very warm,” Valenchis said. “I just told him ‘let’s get you fixed up.’”
While he was in the dentist's chair, Hughes said he and the senator talked about the boats they owned. Hughes took X-rays of the damaged tooth and put in a temporary filler.
The whole appointment lasted about 45 minutes. Rubio took photos with the staff members in the office before leaving and was onstage in Magnolia Hall about an hour later, no one the wiser to his quick stop at the dentist.
“He is an extremely gracious person,” Hughes said. “He was really nice. Everyone was extremely impressed by him.”
After his town hall at Sun City, Rubio stopped at the Cracker Barrel in Okatie for breakfast with his family, where he explained he had broken a molar on the Twix bar and made a quick stop at the dentist.
The story of Rubio’s mangled molar quickly went viral Thursday afternoon. The Wall Street Journal joked it had cracked under pressure, while USA Today wrote the broken tooth proved Rubio was “not a robot after all.”
“It stands to reason that robots, in general, do not have humanoid teeth,” USA Today writer Josh Hafner wrote.
Rubio said he was directed by Hughes to stick to soft foods until he can get a permanent repair at home in Miami. In the thick of a primary race in South Carolina, it could be a while before he has the time to head home for his next dentist’s appointment.
At Cracker Barrel, Rubio heeded Hughes’ advice, ordering blueberry pancakes with blueberry syrup. The Wall Street Journal reported he ate all but a few bites.
Although the sugar content may not be dentist endorsed, Hughes said so long as he avoids chewing hard foods on the side with the broken tooth he should be fine.
“No, that’s approved,” Hughes said with a laugh.
If there was one positive from the broken tooth saga, it’s that Rubio gained a voter in Hughes.
“Oh, he absolutely has my vote,” Hughes said. “He was really nice and he didn’t act like he was in a hurry. He never came across as pretentious. I was impressed with him. That’s who I would want to make the decisions for us.”