The saga of our local dentists then and now – Reflections of Ponoka

In this 1932 photo

A trip to the dentist will likely never be on the top of our greatest experience list, but the results of their skills and those sessions with their friendly staff have always been most important to our ongoing health, our fabulous smiles, and our everyday lifestyles.

One can only imagine the many changes that have occurred in the practice of dentistry over the past century or so, and our community has always been a vital part of that colourful history.

It was not until 7000 B.C. that experts were found to care for the precious teeth of the nation. Disorders were supposedly cured with the use of ‘bow drills,’ operated by bead craftsmen — but only for those who could afford the delicate procedures. Somewhere around the year 5000 B.C. those in the know claimed that tooth cavities were caused by an ominous ‘tooth worm.’

Historians claim that the genuine practise of tooth extraction and dental care began early in the 19th century, and in most cases was performed by local physicians or barbers. Out in the wild west or along the trail, many a fine mouthful of teeth were likely re-arranged or removed in a fight or by a stray kick from a flighty horse, while the extractions were some how completed with crude tools, a few primitive painkillers, and whatever elixir was handy.

As qualified dentists began to graduate from big city medical schools, they would slowly begin to set up their offices in early communities, offering their unique services to pioneer families, as well as livestock if necessary. It was about that time that ‘laughing gas’ arrived on the scene, and while quite often causing some commotion around the chair, went a long way to help ease the pain and stress of a visit to the dentist.

The history of Ponoka dentists

The Ponoka Panorama history book hinted that our first real dentist was likely a woman in the first years of the 20th century who was qualified only to pull teeth. Around 1910 Dr. Chinneck arrived in town with his mother, establishing a dental office and his living quarters upstairs in the old Algar Store along Railway Street. The busy office had ailing customers arriving at all hours, and because of the demand for the ‘new look quick fix,’ Chinneck hired the school principal in 1911 to make dentures part-time. This office remained in service until 1914 when Dr. Chinneck moved to Edmonton.

The next local dentist, whose name was not available, set up his practise in the old Alberta Hotel on 50th Street (now Sweet Block). Mrs. Harris, the wife of the new farm manager at the Ponoka Mental Hospital, was his assistant and they worked together until he was called overseas to serve as a dentist for the Canadian armed forces. For quite a few years the community went without a resident dentist and was serviced by a gentleman from Lacombe, who only came once or twice a week. Dr. Budd finally arrived about 1919, initially setting up his office in the Reid Block. The practice later expanded to an office above the Bird Drug Store on Chipman Avenue, serving the community and districts until 1927.

Upon the arrival of Dr. W.E. Addinell, a graduate of the University in 1927, it was quickly discovered that this always well-dressed and debonair gentleman was not only a very good dentist, but also a real character with a keen sense of humour and full bag of practical jokes. He occupied the dental office in the Bird Drug Store, and while also serving a two-year term as the mayor of Ponoka, would soon become very adapt at pulling teeth and talking politics, occasionally having to stuff in some more cotton batten or add a little more gas if the conversation got out of hand.

Dr. Addinell would operate his shop until joining an overseas medical team in the war years, then retired to Victoria, B.C. It was also rumoured that way back then the dentists would gather at their annual convention at the posh Banff Springs Hotel. The Ponoka gentleman, who they nicknamed ‘Nifty,’ strolled into the pool area one evening wearing a 1900 bathing suit and an oversized set of dentures, then calmly dove into the pool, and emerged a few moment later flashing the newest of modern swimwear.

The long line of fine dentists continued to take up residence in Ponoka to serve the growing town and county areas. These included: Dr. E. Galbraith, Dr. Wall, and Dr. S.R. Adam, who located in the office above the Imperial Bank building in 1943, then moved into the upstairs dental suite in the new Medical Arts Building. Adams was known as a kind, obliging and very proficient dentist, as well as an ardent golfer and curler.

Dr. Don I. Culham, who had become associated with Dr. Adams in 1947, would later establish his own practice in the Medical Arts Building. In 1967 Culham received the appointment of Dental Surgeon to the Alberta Hospital, as well as serving other provincial hospitals throughout the province.

Another avid sportsman, Dr. Hank Shimbashi teamed up with Dr. Culham from 1959 to 1960, at which time Dr. M.E. Crandall, a member of a Ponoka pioneer family also entered the partnership. Also serving our local dental needs for a short time were Dr. T. Bailey and Dr. M. Logan, then Dr. Jim Stiles took over the Culham practice, and would remain in that position for many years.

Although the technology and methods of dentistry have changed quite a bit over the years, the extreme patient care and treatment, and the keen community spirit of these professional doctors and their staffs have always remained the same.

Carrying on those excellent services and proud traditions in our community today are: Dr. Rick Barr, Dr. Greg Edwards and Dr. Patrick Nordstrom at the Birchland Dental Clinic and Dr. Leslie Gill and Dr. Jen Kobi at the Ponoka Dental Centre. The satisfaction, comfort, and delightful smiles of their customers of all ages has always been their greatest reward.

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