Suffering Yukon dentist forced to drill his own tooth

Dr. Chris Wisniewski travels to Yukon communities and needed care for himself, but a retired Dawson City dentist wasn't allowed to use the local hospital to perform the procedure.

Yukon gov't refused to let retired dentist use Dawson City hospital to help ailing man

According to Helmut Schoener, a retired dentist in Dawson City, bureaucratic rules prevented him from stepping in to help his ailing colleague, forcing Dr. Chris Wisnieski to give himself a filling. (Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

A dentist who visits Yukon communities to provide service was recently forced to use his drill on himself.  

According to another dentist — Helmut Schoener, who lives in Dawson City — it's because bureaucratic rules prevented him from stepping in to help the ailing doctor.  

Schoener said Dr. Chris Wisniewski had a toothache while working in Dawson a few weeks ago. Schoener is retired, but still has a licence to practice — and some 40 years of professional experience.

'The argument was it would be unfair to other Yukon communities if Dawson received dental emergency services by me. It doesn't make any sense,' said retired dentist Helmut Schoener, seen here in 2007. (Submitted by Helmut Schoener)

"[Wisniewski] said, 'I'm developing a toothache and it's getting worse — hopefully I can make it,'" recalled Schoener. "I said, 'look, there's no problem — I'll gladly help you out." 

Schoener said Wisniewski accepted his offer, and he called the territorial health department in Whitehorse to get permission for Schoener to use the dental facility in the Dawson community hospital.

But the answer did not leave him smiling.

Schoener said the Department of Health and Social Services denied him access. 

"This is an ironic twist — most of the people in town know that I provided dental services for the last 40 years."

Meanwhile, Wisniewski continued on his community rounds to Old Crow. His toothache got worse, according to Schoener.

"So he decided, with help from his wife and assistant, to drill his own tooth and put a filling in there. Poor guy," said Schoener.

Wisniewski declined an interview with CBC.

Not a new issue, Schoener says

Schoener said he has asked the government in the past for permission to do emergency dental work, but it won't allow him. 

"The argument was it would be unfair to other Yukon communities if Dawson received dental emergency services by me," he said.

"And on top of it, I would provide the service at no extra expenses for [the Yukon government]. It would be a free service, no obligations financially."

Schoener said he can't understand the government's reasoning.

The hospital in Dawson City has dentistry facilities — but Schoener can't use them. (CBC)

"I am puzzled and surprised ... in my opinion, it does not make any sense," he said.

"The argument that it would be unfair to other communities, I find truly absurd and nobody can comprehend it. By the same token, I could say, 'Well, they should close the indoor swimming pool down in Dawson because there isn't one in Carmacks or Pelly Crossing.'"

Schoener said he's spoken with Klondike MLA, Premier Sandy Silver, about the issue.

"Unfortunately — and surprisingly — [he] seemed to support the decision by the department ... I'm truly puzzled," Schoener said.

Calls from CBC to the Yukon's health department, and to Silver, have not been returned. 

About the Author

Nancy Thomson

Raised in Ross River, Yukon, Nancy Thomson is a graduate of Ryerson University's journalism program. Her first job with CBC Yukon was in 1980, when she spun vinyl on Saturday afternoons. She rejoined CBC Yukon in 1993, and focuses on First Nations issues and politics. You can reach her at nancy.thomson@cbc.ca.

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