The challenge of working in dentistry in a rural area is one Dr. Tyrel Finmor welcomes.
A part of the team at SandCreek Dental, in Tillamook, Oregon, Dr. Finmor loves working in a small town offering dental care to community members who might not otherwise have it. Dr. Finmor’s office is one of the few in town that accepts patients on the Oregon Health Plan, furthering the Oregon Dental Association’s goal of expanding local access to dental services.
Dr. Finmor is passionate about increasing education around oral health care. Every day, he works with patients who have had limited dental care for a variety of reasons. They may have been afraid of the dentist, afraid of judgment, or cost was a barrier to their seeking dental care.
“I feel like there are a lot of things that go into that, including generational poverty and a lack of dental knowledge, and when we don’t have fluoride in the water, we see kids with rampant decay,” Dr. Finmor said. “From a public health perspective, I think it would make such a big difference if people had more access to information, to both gain knowledge about oral health care and to learn about preventative measures.”
Dr. Finmor feels lucky to have grown up in a household where he learned about dentistry early on. Both Dr. Finmor and his brother followed in the footsteps of their dad, who is a dentist, although Dr. Finmor’s route there wasn’t exactly linear. Though he started college as a pre-dental student, Dr. Finmor earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from the University of Utah and taught elementary school for five years. His interest in pursuing a dental career was reignited when a dental van visited the school he taught at in Hillsboro. He left teaching to complete his pre-dental coursework at Portland State University, earning a second bachelor’s degree in science, and later earned his DMD from OHSU’s School of Dentistry.
“I was very worried that I was going to go to school with many people I didn’t relate to both as a returning student and a gay person,” Dr. Finmor said. “I found that wasn’t the case and I had a very accepting class and a very diverse class.”
In addition to his classmates, the Oregon chapter of the American Dental Student Association made him feel welcome to the field, as did the Oregon Dental Association.
“The ODA was so good about reaching out to us and helping us feel like valued members even though we weren’t dentists yet,” Dr. Finmor said. “They valued what we had to say.”
At SandCreek Dental, Dr. Finmor works with a variety of patients every day ranging in age from children to the elderly.
“It is a great family practice and I love that we see multiple generations,” Dr. Finmor said. “We accept Oregon Health Plan and see a lot of Medicaid patients, which I love.”
The type of work he does day in and day out contributes to the ODA’s broader goal of ensuring oral health care for all Oregonians. For Dr. Finmor, one recent patient he’s worked with is representative of the type of care he often provides. The patient, who’s in her 20s, had a lot of cavities to be treated.
“She is so gregarious and has a wonderful laugh, but she was always conscious to hide her smile,” Dr. Finmor said. “We were able to completely restore her teeth, and I love being able to turn things around.”
As a small coastal town, Tillamook doesn’t have regular dental specialists. There is just one orthodontist who visits once a week. It’s one of the aspects of working in a rural area that drew Dr. Finmor to the job, but also one of the challenges.
“If we refer someone, most of the time they will need to go to an urban area,” Dr. Finmor said. “Sometimes that stretches us to find a way for us to provide the care they need here.”
Finding a specialist that will accept OHP is even more challenging for many patients. It creates an extra incentive for Dr. Finmor and his colleagues to try to provide their patients as much care as possible.
“I always tell my patients, ‘This is a judgment-free zone, and let’s just work on getting you to the point where you are happy and smiling,’” Dr. Finmor said.
Outside of his practice, his passion for caring for others extends to furry friends. Dr. Finmor and his husband breed, raise and show rabbits. In addition to being an ODA member, he’s a member of the American Rabbit Breeders Association.
Just over a year into his dental career, Dr. Finmor is thinking of ways dentistry could continue to evolve for the better. He’d love to see it become easier for dentists to work with insurance, for one. But there’s another positive shift in dentistry he already sees happening.
“I love that we are seeing more women and people of color and more diverse dentists and dental students,” Dr. Finmor said.
It’s growth like this that makes Finmor excited and proud to be a part of ODA and the dental field.