New Dental Practice Jammed in Tumbler Ridge

Dr. Cheng (Left) and his hygienist are able to check out their dental emergency, however he is not yet permitted to help. He is meeting with council tonight to try and get that changed.

Dr. Cheng (Left) and his hygienist are able to check out their dental emergency, however he is not yet permitted to help. He is meeting with council tonight to try and get that changed.

Lynsey Kitching

Need to get an aching tooth removed? Can’t get it done in Tumbler.

Need to get a cavity filled? Not gonna happen here.

Have an abscess that is keeping you up all night, causing you great pain and you need some freezing to provide a little relief? Well Dr. Andrew Cheng can see you in Tumbler, but you may need to car-pool to Dawson for him to give you a little freezing, because, he can’t do it here.

Dr. Cheng says, “I have an emergency coming now, I can’t see him legally, even if it’s a life threatening abscess and he’s in a lot of pain. I can’t even give him freezing for the pain; they won’t allow me right now. It is totally ridiculous. I have everything here and ready.” The initial plan for Dr. Cheng was to only have a hygiene practice; however, upon learning the facilities in Dawson Creek weren’t up to standard, he is now pushing more for his Tumbler Ridge patients.

“When I started this whole thing in the north it was a week here and a week there at that clinic [in Dawson Creek] just to fill in some of my slower times. I had clinics in Vancouver and Squamish, and I just sold a practice I had in Surrey. Vancouver is just too difficult, there are too many dentists,” he continues, “There are none here now. I was going to start up a little satellite hygiene clinic here. The original idea was I could have patients in Tumbler so they wouldn’t have to go to Dawson Creek, but it ended up that the clinic in Dawson really wasn’t up to standard. It is run down and old and they’re having troubles,” he explains.

The reason Dr. Cheng’s practice is a hygiene practice only is because right now he is operating out of a residential area, though he is hoping to one day move downtown. In order for this to happen however, he needs to establish a practice, get the funds together, hopefully receive a government grant and gain some corporate backing.

He says, “I’m trying to establish a good little practice first and then once I have that, build a clinic somewhere downtown or in an available vacant space. That’s a two year project. I’m asking council on Tuesday for permission to do fillings, extractions and emergencies here. Right now I am not permitted to do a filling here and it’s frustrating.”

Dr. Cheng is hoping council sees the long term big picture of what he can offer to the community, but it may take a few growing pains. He says, “I’m hoping I won’t have any obstacles in council. They initially said no to me, that I couldn’t do fillings here. They didn’t want to do fillings in the residential area, I guess the neighbours are getting upset. I guess it’s because they don’t want a dentist in the residential area even for a short period of time. They want me downtown, but there is no way I can setup right away. It takes two years from start to finish, at least.”

He explains initially there was another dentist here and there wasn’t enough room for the two, however, the other dentist isn’t practicing anymore, so Dr. Cheng feels it’s great timing.

“I can’t make a living doing check-ups,” he says, “I can only sustain this for another month and then I would have to do the virtual check-ups where the hygienists stay here and I’ll be in Vancouver doing fillings and extractions or work out of a denture clinic in Dawson Creek.”

Dr. Cheng has been practicing dentistry since 1989. He has moved up here to the north to get away from the competitive industry down south. “There were two guys who had a satellite practice in Tumbler in the early 80s. They did really well but when the mine closed, they closed and moved. They told me it was a nice little community. I had it in the back of my mind. Now that I’m older and wiser, I want to do it right in Tumbler—not pay rent, but own the building,” says Dr. Cheng.

On top of his desire to have a dental practice, Dr. Cheng is also looking at taking over care for First Nations in the Tumbler Ridge area. He says, “I want to build a brand new clinic, state of the art, digital, no toxins, eco-friendly and to be able also to have a contract with the government so I can provide service to First Nations as well. Right now my hands are tied because Bill Cliff has the exclusive contact and no one else is providing any service to First Nations because Bill is doing it. I talked with the mayor and said I would do First Nations in Tumbler.”

In order for these plans to come to fruition, Dr. Cheng is going to need some help. He says, “I can’t afford one million dollars, and no bank is going to finance this, it’s impossible. Maybe I can get a grant from the provincial government.”

Gateway in Dawson Creek received $300,000 from the provincial government a few years back to operate sort of a First Nations and welfare clinic.

Hopefully Dr. Cheng can keep his practice going until he can occupy a space in the downtown core. He explains Triland International is offering him a space in the property they have purchased, and also, there is potential for him to move into the Teck office when they move out to the mine. Dr. Cheng explains, “The owner of the downtown space where Teck is called me yesterday and asked, ‘Once Teck is out of that space, do you want it?”

He continues explaining his other option, “Right now I’m talking to Triland because they really want me in this space they have. I spoke to Graham, and he said maybe we’ll get a sponsorship from HD, call it the Murray River Medical Dental Clinic, cause of the Murray River Mine. I thought that’s great.”

Until then, Dr. Cheng is all setup and ready to roll and is even ready to expand in the home he is working out of. “It’s like building a mine, it takes a while. If they allow me to do dental, we are going to do a quick reno and bring another chair in here, and have an operatory room. We are setup for full dental, even root canals. Filling, crowns, everything. I’m only licensed to do an exam right now.”

Until his licence here in Tumbler changes, Dr. Cheng fears the community members are the ones who will pay the price. He says, “People are going to suffer and waste time driving there and back, take time off work, have someone else take time off work so I can do a five minute extraction. Waste a whole day for two people.”

Mayor Wren has said they will make a decision two weeks after the presentation. “I hope that’s the case. Leaving it too long means the practice will stall,” fears Dr. Cheng.