Dental facility in the works for Dawson, says retired dentist

Helmut Schoener is smiling - he says the premier assured him that his community would soon have a dental facility once again. It would allow travelling dentists to work in Dawson.

Community has been without a dentist, or a dental clinic, for months

The hospital in Dawson City, Yukon, includes an emergency room, a medical clinic, a health centre, and a pharmacy, but no dental clinic. (CBC)

Dawson City's semi-retired dentist is excited. Helmut Schoener talked to Yukon Premier Sandy Silver on the phone this week, and says Silver told him the government will put a dental facility in Dawson's new hospital.

"You can't imagine the problems — people having to drive to Whitehorse every time they have a tooth problem. It's a horrible situation," Schoener said.

After almost 10 years without a resident dentist, last year Dr. Gerald Labine opened a new clinic in the community. But it was open less than a year before Labine died, earlier this year.

Since then, there has been no dentist, and no dental facility.

Dawson resident John Steins says the government used to have a space in town where traveling dentists worked out of. But that changed when Labine moved to town.  

"I don't want to put words in anyone's mouth, but I'm assuming that [the government] decided that, 'Wow, look, here's a private practitioner that gets us off the hook, we don't need that room anymore,'" said Steins.

So the government closed down its clinic, and got rid of the equipment.

"So now, we're left with absolutely nothing," Steins said.

Steins started a petition, asking the government to "establish a dental office in our new hospital or at the very least facilitate accessible dental care for citizens living in and around Dawson City."

The petition garnered over 500 signatures in the community of nearly 1,400.

When dental health was a 'horror'

Schoener — who retired in 2009 — also got involved and spoke to the premier and Health Minister Pauline Frost — but was initially left frustrated and angry. 

Retired dentist Helmut Schoener, seen here in 2007, says he doesn't want to see Dawson's dental health return to the 'horror' it was back in the 1970s. (Submitted by Helmut Schoener)

"Unfortunately, there was this dead silence for three months where I tried to contact the office and never got a response," he recalled.

Schoener remembers moving to Dawson in 1978, when the state of dental health in the community was a "horror".

"I don't like to see that repeat itself, and it may if there are no treatment facilities and not a service provided," he said.

Schoener says Premier Silver didn't provide him with any details about what kind of clinic or facility the government is planning, or a timeline. 

Minister Frost also told CBC the government is working on the issue, but offered no details.

But Schoener is optimistic that the government will follow through with a new clinic.

He says providing the facility is the easy part, and it also increases the likelihood of a young dentist moving to the community like he did, 40 years ago.


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