ONE of our town's most experienced dentists will quietly close the door on his consulting room for the last time this Thursday.

Dr David Evans has cared for the teeth of generations of patients in his 40 years of service in Whanganui. Even at 70, he's reluctant to talk about retirement; he'd rather call it a year's sabbatical.

David is a character, with an oddball sense of humour that always made my mother laugh uproariously but sometimes left me baffled.

His consulting room is adorned with wry posters and slogans - many of them on the ceiling, giving patients something to read as they lie prone. Rather unexpectedly, Minions feature prominently. ("Blessed are they who engage in lively conversation with the helplessly mute, for they shall be called dentists", proclaims the poster by the door).


Most of the 7000-odd patients on his books will fondly recall his previous premises in an old villa at 184 Wicksteed St, where he practised with fellow dentist Ray Hutchinson.

David's graciously large consulting room featured large windows with a view into the treetops, while the Concert Programme provided a soothing soundtrack. A bird feeder was right outside, attracting a host of wax eyes and other birds, and patients had a ringside view of avian antics as they reclined in the dentist chair, David saying it inspired the installation of bird feeders in backyards across Whanganui.

When Ray retired in 2013, David moved across the road to The Dentists, which owns multiple-dentist practices in seven locations around New Zealand. There, the only view from his small consulting room is of carparks. But it's also had its advantages. David says he's enjoyed the revitalising influence of younger dentists.

As with doctors, there's been an inexorable move in dentistry towards larger practices. When David entered the profession, dentists established their own practice, perhaps with one other colleague, and worked in it for life. Now younger dentists are much more likely to be employees or contractors than business owners.

The downside of amalgamation is potentially less continuity of care. The day before I spoke with David, he'd seen a woman in her 50s who's been a patient of his since she was 12. He also ministers to the children and grandchildren of his original patients.

David grew up in Waimatuku, a tiny Southland community on State Highway 99 that connects Riverton with Invercargill. He went to a two-room country school with a combined roll of about 60 pupils from primer one to standard six.

When he was six, his father sold their small farm and bought the local grocery store.

Did that mean a counter stacked with lolly jars and night-time raids, I ask? David laughs: "I will neither confirm nor deny."


Dentistry wasn't an immediate calling. David spent five years working in a pathology lab when he left school, which stimulated an interest in things medical but no wish to be a doctor. "I was good with my hands," he says with a smile and a self-deprecating shrug.

One reason he did not go into dentisty after high school was because he could not afford it and had to work to pay for his fees. However, at 21, he enrolled in Otago University's school of dentistry.

Professor Craddock was still there, near the end of his decades-long reign as professor of prosthetic dentistry. Thanks to his single-handed influence, New Zealand in the 1970s had the dubious distinction of ranking second highest in the world for adult total loss of teeth.

Craddock was a great fan of dentures and taught generations of New Zealand's dentists that humans had three sets of teeth: deciduous (baby teeth), second teeth and dentures. False teeth were simply part of the natural order of things. And why wait? After all, it was easier to learn to use dentures at 35 rather than 95.

That recalls the dreadful stories I heard from my late stepfather of young brides having all their teeth extracted as a wedding present before heading off to isolated farms. Dentures weren't going to cause debilitating toothache or abscesses and, when one was days from medical treatment, it must have seemed worth trading a lifetime of sore gums and trouble eating.

However, David insists he has always hated taking out anyone's teeth out.

As a graduating dentist, David had the choice of positions in Greymouth and Whanganui. He chose us and has practised continuously since 1977.

He's been involved with the Rotary Wanganui North Club, and served as its president for a time in the late 90s, and heavily involved in Wanganui Toastmasters. He also pursued an interest in pistol shooting.

He will miss his patients, David says. "But I am not going to miss the extractions. Or the weekend emergencies."

If you want to say thanks and goodbye to David, you'll have to be quick - he steps on board a plane on April 1 to begin overseas adventures.

■Rachel Rose is a Whanganui-based writer and editor. More information, plus sources, can be found at