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Lynn Harris, right, meets with students at the dental hygiene program of the ODS College of Dental Sciences in La Grande. Harris takes over as the programís executive director on Aug. 21. (CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer)
Lynn Harris’ days of treating patients at prisons in Baker City and Pendleton are ending.
The dentist’s days of working full time to help develop the skills of future dental professionals, however, are just beginning.
Harris has been named the new executive director of the dental hygiene program of the ODS College of Dental Sciences in La Grande.
“We are thankful to have Lynn. He has a true passion for dentistry and teaching,” said Teri Barichello, vice president and chief dental officer at the ODS Companies.
Harris is a familiar and respected face on the La Grande dentistry landscape. He had a private dental practice in La Grande for 34 years before retiring in 2010.
In November 2011 Harris came out of retirement to take a position as a dentist for the Oregon Department of Corrections. Harris has provided care for inmates at the Powder River Correctional Facility in Baker City and the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution in Pendleton since then.
He is stepping down from this position as he begins his new job with the dental hygiene program in La Grande, which starts on Aug. 21.
Harris will succeed Edward Stuedli, who was been at the ODS school for seven years.
Harris credits Stuedli with doing a first-rate job of establishing connections with local dentists, getting students involved in outreach projects in the community, schools and overseas and more.
“He will be a difficult act to follow,’’ Harris said.
Stuedli said he has a great time with the dental school.
“I have enjoyed the students. They keep you mentally young,’’ he said.
Stuedli is in his 53rd year in dentistry and his 46th year as an educator for dental students. During a portion of his years helping to train dental professionals, he also worked as a dentist in private practice.
Stuedli will be moving back to Klamath Falls where he and his wife, Pauline, have a cattle ranch. Pauline served at the ODS School of Dental Sciences in La Grande for seven years as an instructor before retiring last spring.
Harris has gotten to know Edward and Pauline Stuedli well over the past seven years for he has often assisted the ODS school. He has filled in for Edward Stuedli when he has been absent and jumped at opportunities to help ODS with supervising community service programs, conducting mock job interviews and more.
Harris has always enjoyed the time he has spent with the school.
“It is very stimulating to be part of the educational process,’’ he said.
Walk into the ODS School of Dental Services with Harris and it quickly becomes apparent that he has strong connections to the school. He appears to know all of its staff and students and clearly enjoys a relaxed and friendly rapport with them.
The La Grande dentist is looking forward to moving into his new position but will miss working at the correctional facilities in Baker City and Pendleton.
“I honestly enjoyed it,’’ he said.
Harris said at times the work was disheartening because many of the inmates he cared for had serious problems because they had not been to a dentist in decades or had been heavy meth users.
He noted that in many cases inmates who had been habitual drug users began taking much more interest in their dental health as they got off drugs.
“It was an interesting transition,’’ Harris said. “They cared about restoring their teeth but previously they did not.’’
Harris and his wife, Jan, moved to La Grande in 1976, a time when dentists in Eastern Oregon were struggling to find hygienists. Recruiting hygienists remained a struggle for Harris and all local dentists in Eastern Oregon for years.
The situation for La Grande dentists improved dramatically eight years ago when the ODS School of Dental Services opened in La Grande. Each year about 26 students graduate from the school as certified dental hygienists. Many stay in Union County or the region to work in dental offices.
Harris credits La Grande dentist Pat Nearing with being one of those who played a critical role in getting the ODS school established in La Grande.
The ODS School of Dental Services is a collaborative program. It involves ODS, Eastern Oregon University and Oregon Institute of Technology at Klamath Falls.
The hygienists who graduate from the school play a role in dental care the importance of which cannot be underestimated, Harris said. They not only clean teeth and spot problems they tell the dentist about, they also develop a rapport with patients.
“Hygienists at times relate to patients better than dentists. They put patients at ease,’’ Harris said.
This means patients may be more likely to share important things about their dental health with hygienists. This information, when passed on to dentists, can play a critical role in promoting dental health.
“A hygienist to a dentist is like a nurse is to a doctor,’’ Harris said.