ON LEAVE: Opotiki’s sole dentist Paul Owen is off work, recuperating for another few months. File photo

OPOTIKI’S dental woes seem set to continue for at least another three months.

The town’s sole dentist, Paul Owen, is still on sick leave after suffering further health issues and plans for a Whakatane dentist to set up shop in Opotiki is nowhere near completion.

In fact, it may never happen.

Eastbay Dental owner John Twaddle said he had been procrastinating about setting up a dental clinic in Opotiki for a long time, and had purchased a building for that purpose, but had yet to make it happen.

“I’ve been in the process for four to five years, but it’s stalled in the water,” he said.

While the Whakatane-based dentist’s intention was to expand to Opotiki, staffing issues were the problem.

“There’s not enough dentists and I haven’t found a suitable dentist to go and work in Opotiki,” Mr Twaddle said.

“I’ve had the building sitting empty for four years.”

Mr Twaddle said if he could find the right person, then he would decide whether to set up a dental surgery in Opotiki.

“It’s a big cost to set up a dental surgery,” he said.

Not wanting to compete with Mr Owen is another reason Mr Twaddle has not established an Opotiki clinic yet.

“He was doing his thing and there didn’t seem to be a need.”

Mr Twaddle said he would need to “almost duplicate” what he had in Whakatane to set up in Opotiki.

“I do have a set of dental gear in the building that I acquired, but it’s nowhere near ready to go,” he said. “If it happened next year, then that would be amazing.”

Mr Twaddle said he also battled with the question of whether he had the energy to do it.

“You have to comply with Government regulations to set up a surgery, it’s not just setting one up like it was in the old days.”

Meanwhile, Mr Twaddle said he was on the hunt for a suitable dentist for Opotiki.

“They would have to first complete a trial run in Whakatane,” he said.

“We would have to ensure they have the same attitude to patients that we have.

“If we were putting in the wrong person, that would be a disservice to the community.”

In December last year, Mr Owen expected to be home recovering from a detached retina for two months, but the eye problem took longer to resolve than expected.

He said he had then suffered another health issue, finding his hands were going numb and his legs were shaking and he couldn’t walk properly.

“There’s no use for a one-eyed dentist with numb hands,” Mr Owen said.

The symptoms were the result of a collapsed vertebra in the neck and he is having more surgery at the end of the month.

Mr Owen reckons it was probably caused by a combination of posture, rugby and mountain biking.

“I am having more surgery at the end of this month,” he said.

This meant Opotiki’s sole dentist might be off work for another three months.

The problem with the detached retina was “all finished now”, even if not totally successful.

“It’s still healing, long term,” Mr Owen said.

Mr Owen said he could understand the challenge Mr Twaddle had with finding a dentist that was suitable for Opotiki.

“There’s a general shortage of dentists who would want to work in a rural area,” he said.

“It’s the same with GPs and vets, they all want to work in the cities because it’s better money.”

Mr Owen said Opotiki residents and patients needing dental treatment should call his surgery on (07) 315 6124 and they would be re-directed to the appropriate dentist in Whakatane, Ohope or Kawerau.

Mr Owen has been Opotiki’s sole dentist since 2002.

Opotiki’s primary school-aged children are serviced by mobile dental units operated by the Bay of Plenty District Health Board.

sven.carlsson@thebeacon.co.nz

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