Presently, Dawson City doesn’t have a facility for a dentist. The hospital is one location being suggested. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News)

Hopes grow for return of dental services to Dawson City

Klondike has been without a dentist since February

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver recently offered Dawson residents a dose of Novocaine for their dentistry woes.

Silver told Helmut Schoener — who was Dawson’s resident full-time dentist for 40 years until he retired in 2009 — via phone that he would do something to rectify the situation, Schoener said.

“Premier Silver understands the need (for a dentist in Dawson),” he said.

The trouble started in February 2017, when dentist Gerald Labine, who had just moved to the community, died. Labine opened his practice approximately six months earlier in 2016. Prior to that, the community had been without a full-time dentist since Schoener retired in 2009, although he was still doing emergency services, he said.

Schoener said he was concerned when Labine opened his practice because Labine “wasn’t exactly a spring chicken.”

Part of the problem, Schoener said, was that when Labine opened his office, the government closed and dismantled the publically-funded office Schoener had worked out of.

When Labine took the practice over, he set up and furnished his own facility. When he died, it was sold and the equipment was removed. Schoener said he didn’t know where that equipment went.

Not only was Dawson down a dentist, it was missing a facility for any dentists to work out of at all.

Schoener said the most “logical” solution would be to find a place for dentists in the hospital. A dental unit was not included when the hospital was built because the government “didn’t want to compete with Labine,” he said.

Schoener said Silver called him in response to a letter he wrote the premier “expressing concern and frustration” after phone calls to Health Minister Pauline Frost went unreturned. Schoener said he had been calling Frost since April.

“I kept calling and calling the minister of health’s office and no one ever answered my call,” he said.

“Nobody ever answered the phone … nothing ever happened,” he said. “I think when we elect a government we expect certain things and the least they can do is return our calls.”

Frost told the News she met with Schoener “for a cup of tea” in Dawson about three weeks ago, when they discussed the issue.

“I’m not sure what that (complaint) is about,” she said. “My department endeavors to respond as quickly as it can to all emails and calls … we are responding in a timely fashion. I just want to make that known.”

Schoener said Silver apologized for the “break in communication.”

Frost said the government has asked an itinerant dentist to start visiting Dawson. He has agreed, but needs a facility to work out of.

The government has not confirmed a place for the facility, Frost said, but they are “looking at some alternative options.” The government “basically has to start from scratch,” she said.

Possible options include the hospital, she said, or renting out a private space.

“We have some options open for us and we are doing our best to rectify the situation,” she said.

Frost said there is presently no timeline set for finding a solution.

In the meantime, Schoener says he receives calls “every week” from people in the community who need dental care, but he is unable to help them because the city has no facility for him to work out of. This forces people to go to Whitehorse, a six-hour drive each way that’s time-consuming and costly for Dawson residents, he said.

“It’s too expensive for people, especially with small children, to take them to Whitehorse two to three times a year,” he said.

“Hopefully, something will happen soon.”

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

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