Marcus Larson/News-Register##Retiring dentist Tim Roberts and his daughter, dentist Amy Wark, in the office where they ve worked together for 12 years. Wark is taking over her dad s practice.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##Retiring dentist Tim Roberts and his daughter, dentist Amy Wark, in the office where they've worked together for 12 years. Wark is taking over her dad's practice.
By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Stopping By: All Smiles

Retiring dentist says improving patients' lives has made for a rewarding career

Dr. Roberts has taken care of the teeth of McMinnville residents for the last four decades. He also has served education since 2007 as a member of the McMinnville School Board, the volunteer body that helps set policy and garner support for the 6,600-student district.

Stopping By

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996.

> See her column

He volunteers as a SMART reader, too — spending time reading with kids at Columbus Elementary through the Start Making a Reader Today program.

He’ll have even more time for volunteering now that he’s retiring from dentistry after 39 years practicing in McMinnville and three years as a military dentist.

As a retiree, he expects to have more time to spend with his wife, to travel and to garden as well. He may even take the Yamhill County Master Gardener course.

Also See: Tim Roberts' Linfield Days

He won’t be leaving the school board, though, and he definitely won’t be leaving McMinnville. “McMinnville is one of the best places on earth,” he said.

In fact, the Forest Grove native calls himself a Grizzly, not a Viking, because his loyalties lie with his adopted hometown.

He’s also a Wildcat, since he chose Linfield as the place he would study to become a biology and chemistry teacher.

Open House

Retiring dentist Dr. Tim Roberts will be honored at an open house from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, at his office, 2177 N.W. Second St. Patients and former patients, friends and community members are welcome.

Roberts is retiring after practicing in McMinnville for 29 years. His daughter, Dr. Amy Walk, has taken over the practice after working with him for 12 years.

For more information, call the dental office, at 503-472-2125.

He changed his major after an observation at a local school. He said he couldn’t imagining himself leading the classes.

He’d been interested in dentistry since he wore braces.

As an adolescent, he rode the bus into downtown Portland monthly to see an orthodontist. Always one to ask a lot of questions, he drilled the specialist about every aspect of dentistry.

Sometimes his inquiries went on so long, he said, the dentist had to kick him out so he could see other patients.

Young Roberts thought about becoming a dentist early on, but he was put off by the thought of spending eight years training for the job. Once he was in college, that investment began to make sense to him.

At the time, he said, he never questioned whether he had the fine motor skills needed for dentistry. But thinking back, he said, he realizes dexterity came naturally to him — and that the wood shop and typing classes he took in high school had helped him develop skills he would need in dentistry.

At the University of Oregon Dental School, the Linfield graduate learned not only to use his hands to repair patients’ teeth, but also about dental anatomy — how teeth are structured, what they’re made of, how they must align so humans can chew properly.

In his second year, the dental student saw his first patients.

“That’s the fun part,” he said. “People are what make dentistry fun.”

On the brink of retirement, he reflected on the depth of the relationships he developed with his patients over the years. “I’m going to miss all the friends,” he said.

Some of them have been coming to him since he opened his practice in McMinnville. In many cases, he’s also taken care of their children and grandchildren.

In the last three years of dental school, Roberts learned and tried every technique a dentist could use, from basic smoothing and filling to ways to distract anxious patients.

“You need to know all the practices so you can talk to your patients about them,” he said. “But in reality, you won’t have to do everything. You can refer things to specialists.”

He didn’t enjoy dental surgery, for instance, so he sent his patients to specialists for that. What he liked best was reconstructing teeth, installing crowns and bridges, and, especially, improving smiles, he said.

He recalled one case in which he worked with a patient for five years to correct her crooked teeth and rebuild her smile. “She made the commitment,” he said, emphasizing it takes a partnership between patient and dentist to make such a change.

Over the course of the treatments, he said, he saw her blossom from someone who was shy and reticent to someone with self-confidence. She gained status at work and became a better parent, as well.

When the dental improvements were complete, “she cried at the results.”

It was an emotional experience for Roberts, as well. “When you have the ability to change someone’s life, that’s something,” he said.

Since the early 1970s, when Roberts started his career, dental technology and materials have improved and new techniques have been perfected. For instance, dentists now can implant teeth so well, most people can’t tell the additions aren’t original.

The need for some types of care has diminished, in a large part because of fluoridated water. “We used to see lots of decay and abscesses, but now we don’t,” he said. 

Patient education and parent education have played major roles in reducing decay, as well

Roberts said he often talks to parents about the importance of caring for children’s teeth. “Baby teeth are placeholders for adult teeth,” he said.

If baby teeth are allowed to decay or fall out too soon, adult teeth may grow in improperly, he explained. And children can have problems with speaking, chewing or aesthetics, he said.

Expectations about teeth also have changed over the years, Roberts said. A few decades ago, people assumed their natural teeth would be replaced by dentures by the time they reached middle age.

Now they are keeping their teeth longer. Roberts said he’s had patients in their 80s and 90s who still have all their originals.

“It makes a huge difference in their health,” he said. “They can eat a balanced meal, and that means better health.”

He said he’s all for keeping natural teeth. He has a full set of his own, thanks to genetics and to the fluoride in Forest Grove’s water supply when he was growing up.

When Roberts graduated, he prepared for active duty with the Air Force. His initial orders told him he would be stationed as a dentist at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu.

“I can handle that,” he thought with excitement.

Then he received another notice, saying his orders had been changed. Instead of Hawaii, he’d be going to Japan.

Recalling how naively he reacted, Roberts laughed. He said he called the command office to let them know, “There’s been a mistake.” But the officer in charge told him to look at his paperwork again, this time focusing on that all-important word “orders.”

So the young Air Force officer went to Japan. And it turned out to be a wonderful experience, he said.

During his first year, he practiced dentistry only on Air Force personnel. In his second and third years, he also saw military dependents and American embassy employees — people of all ages with all sorts of dental needs, the same mix he later would see in his private practice.

His wife and first two daughters went overseas with him. The family enjoyed experiencing another culture, traveling all over the Far East, and making lifelong friends.

Roberts said his daughter, Amy Wark, who is taking over his practice, had a similar experience when she served as an Air Force dentist. Stationed in England, she had a chance to travel all over Europe.

Roberts and Wark are among many dental school graduates who’ve served in the military. Roberts said 62 of the 65 students in his class joined up, and about 35 of those in his daughter’s 1999 graduating class went into the service.

But that’s changing. Less than 20 percent of last year’s grads joined.

Another change: More women are becoming dentists. There were two female students in his class, while Wark was among about 30 women in hers.

“Last year, there may have been more women than men,” Roberts said. “A huge shift, and that’s great.”

Reverting to his other role as a school board member, he related the gender shift in dentistry to the efforts schools are making to interest girls in science and math. Science, technology, engineering and math programs — STEM — hope to interest as many girls as boys, he said.

After finishing his stint in the military, Roberts was ready to open his own practice. He said he realized his college town would be a perfect place.

“McMinnville offered a good educational system and a nice environment for raising a family,” he said.

It was. All four of the Roberts’ children grew up here: Wark, the dentist; Jennifer Roberts, a psychologist in the Central School District serving Monmouth-Independence; Sara Wetzel, who lives in Washington state; and Eric Roberts, who’s just finishing up his master’s degree in special education at the University of Oregon.

Five of their 10 grandchildren are also growing up in McMinnville. And the others visit often.

“We try to get the whole family together at least once a year,” Grandpa said. “It’s hectic — and fun!”

The young dentist might have used the word “hectic” to describe starting his practice.

New to town, he bought dental equipment and opened an office on McDonald Lane, across from the then-new junior high, now Patton Middle School.

In retrospect, he said, he should have purchased an established practice with a built-in patient base. Starting from scratch, he said, made it “touch-and-go” at times.

Business eventually picked up. He said he may have seen 20,000 people over his 39 years.

Later, he moved his office to South Baker Street, across from Linfield College, then to Hill Road, south of West Second. For the past 10 years, he and his daughter have shared a practice at 2177 N.W. Second St.

In his early years in McMinnville, Roberts served on the chamber board. In the 1990s, he joined other community members in helping build the play station in upper City Park.

The latter effort is a perfect example of what’s great about McMinnville, he said.

“Great community support — that’s what McMinnville is all about,” he said. “We did something that’s good for the community, for the kids and for the next generation.”

Web Design & Web Development by LVSYS