Sometimes, you really can go home again. At least, you can return your family dental practice to the building on Northeast 102nd Avenue in Parkrose that housed it during your father’s heyday.
Parkrose dentist Lee Cowles, who took over his father Leon Cowles’s dental practice when his father retired, had moved the family business down the street to a new building in 1996. However, he returned to his ancestral building Sept. 20, which completed construction—with his father overseeing its development—all the way back in August 1961.
What sparked Cowles’s reunion with his roots? Turns out the answer is mostly logistical, though there remains an uncanny element of nostalgia. “The owners of the other building wanted to sell the building, and there were some limitations there,” says Cowles, who attended the acclaimed dental school at Oregon Health & Science University. “The rooms weren’t that big, there wasn’t much storage, and there were parking problems. Here, there are big rooms with a lot of light coming in and lots of on-street parking. The other dentist in this building and I have been acquainted for about 15 years.”
Though Cowles hasn’t necessarily seen new business since his practice’s location change, he has witnessed a wave of prescient sentimentality from older customers. Indeed, some of Cowles’s customers, many of them dating back to his father’s tenure, are elated at the change. “Lee was going in a different direction than the building at that time; he wanted to be independent and not in his dad’s shadow,” says Mary Lu Baetkey, a patient of the family practice for 61 years. “But walking into that building yesterday was like a trip to the past.”
And certainly, the change is also melancholy for Cowles, who began working with his dad in 1980. He worked full-time under his father’s command around 1986 and the business, its client list intact, became his own in 1990.
However, the younger Cowles initially didn’t want to be a dentist at all. “My parents had three boys, and they took me as the one most likely to become a dentist,” says Cowles. “Of course, I didn’t want to become one. I started off as a music major at college and realized I didn’t want to work in a music shop; I love working with my hands and [in a place] where I have to keep learning things. However, I admit that it’s kind of weird to be a person who likes putting his hands in people’s mouths all day. That’s not normal.”
Other perks of the location change besides better parking and more overall space include a basement dental laboratory. Here, patients can view crowns, bridges and dentures and ask questions; it’s a direct resource for patients. “Most new offices use every little bit of space to make something new for production,” explains Cowles. “I’ve only seen a couple places that have dental labs with them; it’s gone by the wayside. Only about one in 25 dental offices include them.”
Cowles wants to use the space to further connect with his patients. Like his father before him, Cowles is known for his generosity and sense of humor. He’s the people’s dentist.
“What really impressed me was that my mom had Alzheimer’s, so we would travel from her home and Lee would treat her with the greatest respect and gentleness,” adds Baetkey. “The funny thing is that my sister would babysit Lee and his brothers, and I would go with her. I’ve known the family for a long time.”
Cowles also plans to keep up study clubs, which enable him to further his abundant knowledge of dental health. He believes the biggest similarity between himself and his father is their sturdy devotion to continuing their education. “We have to continue keeping our skills as best as possible,” Cowles says.
One big difference between Lee and his dad: he and his office staff dress up for Halloween. This year, they plan to have a big party with lavish prizes, including mock impressions that staff might leave in one’s mouth and pour out in plaster so that you can take home a piece of your own dental records. But don’t worry: there will also be free food, face painting and prizes.
Cowles Dental Care is at 4611 N.E. 102nd Ave. The phone number is 503-255-1506. Their website is cowlesdentalcare.com.