North

Dawson City residents petition territory for a dental facility

Dawson City is without community dental services — and without a dental facility — and some residents are now calling on the government for help.

Community's sole dental practice closed and there's no dental facility at new hospital

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

Dawson City is without community dental services — and without a dental facility — and some residents are now calling on the government for help.

"A lot of people are upset," said Dawson City resident Angela Rear.

"I do have a friend who has a very bad situation with his mouth right now."

Rear herself has made the trip to Whitehorse — about 500 kilometres away — about half a dozen times in the last year to see a dentist. It's one reason she was quick to add her name to a petition directed at Health and Social Services Minister Pauline Frost.

Former mayor John Steins started the petition. It asks 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."

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.

"The last dental service we had was the late Dr. Labine, who, unfortunately passed away a few weeks ago," Steins told CBC.

During the years preceding Labine's private clinic, Steins said the territory supported a dental facility in a rented space that could be used by visiting dentists.

"That allowed a visiting dentist to come up several times a year but that facility has been closed down and disassembled," said Steins.

Hospital should include dental facility: retired dentist

Dr. Helmut Schoener, who still lives in the community, was the resident dentist in Dawson City for decades, retiring about 10 years ago. During most of that time his practice was rented from the government in a space attached to the community's nursing station.

Schoener said the territory's previous Yukon Party government assured him the new hospital, which replaced the nursing station in 2013, would have a dental facility.

"This promise I had been given about four years ago, even at the planning stage of the new hospital, but because of Dr. Labine moving to Dawson, the government's comment was that it did not want to compete with private business," he said.

Schoener says cancelling a hospital-based dental facility was foolish and the government wasn't thinking long-term.

"Now with the very sudden demise of Dr. Labine, there are no dental facilities and no service in town."

He says that's in contrast to other rural Yukon communities where travelling dentists use government facilities to see patients.

"The population base in all of the rural communities in the Yukon are not large enough to justify the set-up of a private office," he said.

Schoener has already written to the new government asking for a dental room at the local hospital. He thinks it's the community's best bet for attracting a new dentist or at least, the services of a travelling dentist.

In an email to CBC News, the Department of Health and Social Services says it "is reviewing the situation, given the recent passing of the private dentist in Dawson City."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cheryl Kawaja is a CBC North reporter based in Whitehorse.

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