By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Recent and pending changes at local dentists' offices mean that Havre residents may see some new faces the next time they need work on their teeth.
One longtime dentist recently retired and at least one other dentist plans to leave Havre. However, local practitioners are assuring their patients that new dentists will take their place, and any disruption will only be temporary.
"I want whoever comes here to be the right person for the job. I've been telling my patients to hang in there - I'm not leaving tomorrow - and we will find the appropriate individual to take my place," said Dr. Dan Bates, a Havre dentist who will leave his practice next year to rejoin the U.S. Air Force.
Bates said he has heard from several dentists interested in taking over his office next year. He will select one before moving to San Antonio, Texas, where he will take additional dental training under an Air Force scholarship.
After three years of training to specialize in prosthodontics, Bates will take one more year of classes, specializing in ormaxil facial prosthetics.
"Basically, it's treating people by replacing parts of their face or jaw that were removed due to oral cancer or lost them to auto accidents," Bates said.
"It was really a tough decision. In fact, when they offered me the scholarship, I actually told the scholarship director, 'Can I call you back next week?' I was really honored they offered me the position, but I didn't know if I was ready to leave Havre. I guess the kicker was that I had so much prior military time," he said.
Bates is a captain in the Montana Air National Guard and has 12 years of active military service. Once he completes his specialization training, he is obligated to serve another four years, meaning he will retire with more than 20 years of active military service.
Bates' decision coincided with that of another local dentist to retire after more than 40 years.
"We're so backlogged right now, it's hard for people to get in," said Dr. Robert Jestrab, who along with Dr. Gerald Olson continues to operate Havre Dental Group following the retirement of Dr. Robert Rector.
Jestrab said he and Olson have found a replacement for Rector, and expect him in July.
"Basically, we're trying to cut down on the pressure on our office," Jestrab said. "Dr. Rector had 40-some years' worth of patients."
Havre Dental Group has stopped accepting new patients, but may begin after the arrival of the new dentist, Jestrab said, adding that Havre Dental Group will announce the identity of the new dentist later this year.
Jestrab said the new dentist is a Great Falls native who is now in the military.