Warmer temperatures this way

February 10th, 2014

Roads in Bethel, Alaska, remain coated in a sheet of ice much of the year.

When this faculty member headed to the Last Frontier in the dead of winter to advance Alaska Natives’ oral health, he didn’t expect the mercury to climb higher than it did in Dallas.

For personal leave time in January, Dr. Kenneth Bolin chose not some sun-drenched locale dripping with sand and palm trees but a snow-laden and remote village of 6,000 residents in southwestern Alaska.

About 400 miles west of Anchorage, near the coast, Bethel is actually the largest community in western Alaska. Accessible only by boat or plane, Bethel’s average daily temperature in January is about 6 degrees — with an average high of 12 and average low of zero.


A fuel tank provides heat to Dr. Kenneth Bolin’s accommodations during his two-week stay in Bethel, Alaska.

Perhaps as a welcome gift, Bolin’s arrival day on Jan. 6 reached a record high of 39 degrees. Meanwhile in Dallas, temperatures plummeted to a monthly low of 15 degrees. Bethel experienced higher than normal temperatures for the majority of Bolin’s two-week visit; it also topped Dallas’ high temperature on our recent snow day Feb. 6. Bolin, however, is quick to reassure that “warm” for Alaska is a relative term.


Bolin on one of the cooler days of the trip – a balmy 5 degrees

An associate professor in public health sciences and director of Texas A&M University Baylor College of Dentistry’s graduate program in dental public health, Bolin spends several weeks a year in Alaska through his work with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. As one of several dentists who supervise students in the Alaska Dental Health Aide Therapists Program, he has devoted more than six years of time and effort to the controversial midlevel dental provider training program.

“I am gratified that midlevel dental providers are enabled to have a vital role in the delivery of oral health care to Alaska Natives in remote areas and are fully capable of doing so with the proper training they receive,” Bolin says.

Want to know more about TAMBCD dentists in Alaska? Read about two alums who have made their home on Alaska’s North Slope in the upcoming Winter 2013-2014 Baylor Dental Journal.

— Carolyn Cox