Specialists such as Oldak hard to find

Posted: Sunday, May 20, 2007

Dr. Stan Oldak will be missed not only as a friend, but also for his eagerness to fill a hard-to-fill niche.

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"It's just not easy to find specialists who are able to interrupt their practice and come out here every few months," said Tom Bornstein, the director of SEARHC's dental services department.

It takes a large population to support a dental practice. Even Juneau, with just more than 30,000 residents, is limited to two oral surgeons and one orthodontist.

It's obviously not financially feasible for a dentist to open a private practice in one of the villages.

That's why SEARHC brings in pediatric and specialty dentists to work in Hoonah, Kake, Angoon, Yakutat, Haines and Prince of Wales Island. Denali KidCare, a health insurance program for underprivileged kids, helps pay the bill.

"It's a really nice level of care to be able to offer out in the communities," Bornstein said. "Specialists in Alaska are limited. Part of the issue with the distribution of dentists in the country is that there's just this huge disparity in rural vs. urban availability of services."

When Bornstein began visiting Hoonah more than 20 years ago, little kids took up more than 80 percent of his practice. In the six years since the pediatric program was instituted, SEARHC has worked through the "backlog of need," Bornstein said.

"The best thing we ever did for adult care in these communities like Kake, Angoon and Hoonah is institute the children's program," Bornstein said. "We funneled all the kids into the pediatric program, and then the general dentists like me went out to these places and focused on seeing the adults."

Pediatric dentists such as Oldak complete dental school and then usually spend about two years in specialty training. The schooling includes orthodontics, behavior modification and many of the systemic growth and development issues that affect the oral health of children.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.



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