As a dentist, Dr. Eli Mayes said he’s seen the impact of drugs or lack of care on teeth. However, it pales in comparison to what he witnessed practicing dentistry in Alaska.
“I’ve seen meth mouth here,” Mayes said. “I haven’t seen anything compared to what I saw up there from just sugar.”
Born and raised in Union, Mayes, who owns Eli Mayes Dental, and his family moved to La Grande when he was in the eighth grade. His father, Jerry, and mother, Suzy, have been involved in area education for years. Suzy is the principal at Central Elementary School, and Jerry retired from his position as principal of Hines Middle School earlier this year..............
..............But besides the 24 hours of daylight in the summer, which wreaked havoc on Mayes’ schedule and sleep patterns, another aspect Mayes had to get used to was the sugar damage to teeth, especially in the village children.
While it’s common knowledge in the United States that soda is unhealthy, he said parents had no problem letting 2-year-olds drink it instead of water.
“We did a survey (of) the whole North Slope, (and) the average amount per day of pop drunk by each person was six (cans) a day,” Mayes said.
He said it was common to see people of all ages with black teeth or no teeth at all, having been eaten away to where there were just black nubs at the gumline.
“I had 2-year-olds with abscesses everywhere,” he said. “We had to strap (children) down, numb everything and take out all their teeth all the time. It was so common that parents would just drop them off — like no big deal, because that’s normal to have your child’s head strapped down, without general anesthesia, and have their teeth ripped out. That’s horrible.”
Mayes and the other dentists would travel to schools and brush children’s teeth, provide fluoride and apply sealants and do radio broadcasts touting dental hygiene. He said he did start to see a shift when children began telling their parents and grandparents that sugary drinks were bad for their teeth, but he knew it would take more generations for the practice to take hold.
Mayes was there for three years before he returned to Eastern Oregon to start a partnership with Dr. Patrick Nearing, Doctor of Dental Medicine, in 2010. The partnership came about because of a happenstance meeting two years prior with Nearing’s wife on the chairlift at Anthony Lakes while Mayes was visiting home from Alaska.
“Two years later (Nearing called and said), ‘Hey, Eli, I’m looking for an associate, and my wife told me you were a dentist from La Grande.’ I had looked at three or four dental practices in the Northwest, and I was either going to renew (in Alaska) or find a private practice,” Mayes said.