Dentist calls it quits after 39 years


A Balclutha dentist has called time after 39 years of service to the community.

Graham York graduated from Otago School of Dentistry in 1978 and, after a side trip to Auckland, came to Balclutha in October 1981.

When he started in Balclutha, Mr York was one of only three dentists servicing Clutha residents.

“Two were in our practice and the other one was down the road,’’ he said.

“Eight years later, I bought my business partner out and carried on alone.”
Mr York said the town had changed a lot since he started here.

“Back when I started, it was prior to Rogernomics. Clutha was a farming›based rural economy and farming was good.”

If people needed dental help over the weekends, they would ring around to find out who could help them, he said.

He was originally going to train as a teacher but changed his mind and qualified eventually as a dentist.

Over the years, Mr York said he spent some time with local Toastmasters and Lions, which he really enjoyed.

He is still a keen photographer and, in his youth, cycled, ran marathons and tramped a lot.
His biggest tramping trip was up to the base camp at Mount Everest, where along the way he noticed Nepalese children had poor dental hygiene.

While resting in a tea house about a third of the way up the climb, he noticed one 5›year› old child’s teeth were so bad they needed replacing.

“I had to photograph this, as his teeth were so bad and I wanted to show my colleagues what their dental hygiene was like.”

He later joined the SmileHIGH group of volunteer dentists who regularly spend six weeks working in the Hillary village area helping treat more than 300 children for dental decay, and teaching oral hygiene.

Married to Anne and with three adult children, Mr York said Balclutha was a great place to live, bring up a family and work.

“People say ‘hello’ to you in the street and take the time to stop and talk,” he said.

One of the more unusual jobs he undertook during his career was helping out at Auckland Hospital following the Mount Erebus air crash disaster in 1979, sorting through dental records to help forensics identify bodies.

Mr York said one of the biggest changes during his time as a dentist occurred after Aids emerged in the early 1980s.

“We had to make changes to the sterilisation of all instruments by using autoclave, then we had sterilise the equipment between patients and use gloves and masks.

‘‘It meant a fundamental change to the way we operated with the safety of the patient and ourselves uppermost in our minds.

“Another change was the type of filling material we used. We now use a white composite resin instead of the old style silver amalgam, which turned black.’’

Mr and Mrs York will soon retire to Wanaka and wish to spend more time travelling to be with their family.