After 34 years as the resident dentist in Blackduck, Dr. Paul Bengtson enjoys recalling the changes in dentistry over the last century.
Dr. Bengtson has sold his practice which will be taken over next year by Dr. Scott Larson, a graduate of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry whose most recent work has been with the Northern Access Clinic in Bemidji. The clinic is a community health clinic serving an area stretching from Deer River and Walker to Thief River Falls and beyond.
Though retiring from his practice in Blackduck, Bengtson will now work with patients at Northern Access. The 64 year old dentist says it will be a different clientele but will still involve many of the same kinds of dental problems.
Dr. Larson, his wife, Rachel, and their two children live on what he calls a hobby farm where they've lived since moving there in 2006. Located north of Blackduck, it's also home to six cows, three horses and a donkey. A year ago, Rachel ran and was elected to a full term on the Blackduck School Board, now also serving as board treasurer.
In assuming Bengtson's practice Jan. 1, Larson will take over a patient-base of some 1,500 persons who have sat in the chair for fillings or extractions and admired photos on the walls. The pictures include many made by Bengtson in Africa, where he spent three years after dental school or Sweden, where he spent another two years before coming to Blackduck more than three decades ago.
He calls his love of travel a trait inherited from his father, also a dentist who worked around Hudson Bay and traveled in the Amazon River basin with missionaries.
Bengtson's own travels have included riding bicycles literally across country. One such solo ride took him border to border from Canada to Mexico along the Pacific coast. Two years later, this time in a group of cyclists, he was able to dip a tire in the Pacific and ride across to Georgia to feel the waters of the Atlantic. He's written about both trips and both were covered extensively in the pages of the Pioneer.
Another earlier major jaunt was an expedition in South America "where I climbed the three highest mountains in Ecuador. A knee injury on the way down from the last peak forced me to take up activities closer to the ground and so cycling has been my passion since that time."
Bengtson speaks enthusiastically about his wife, Julie, and of her chocolate praline layer cake. Years ago, it was the grand prize winner in the famous Pillsbury Bake-off contest. She recalls it had another honor -- it had the second-highest calorie count of any entry. She still makes it, but now mostly just for an occasional fundraising event.
Also retired, Mrs. Bengtson was a part-time music theory instructor at Bemidji State University. She describes the 30years of involvement, the program off and on due to budget considerations. The Bengtsons each have two grown sons from previous marriages.
Writing about the history of dentistry in Blackduck for a local publication, Bengtson said the earliest years are not well documented and in that time, "dental care consisted of removal of offended or diseased teeth by whoever had skills and a pair of pliers."
He continued, writing about "The late Dr. Tuomy, a Bemidji dentist, recalled coming to Blackduck by train for afternoon dental visits in the teens and early 20s. In one memorable afternoon in 1920, he removed 186 teeth."
Unlike conditions then, anesthesia doesn't require a stop "at the saloon" before a visit for dental care.
In letters this week, Bengtson has informed his patients of the coming change, urging them to welcome Dr. Larson and expressing his own thanks to all who have responded to his admonition to "open wider, please."