AURORA — Dr. Mark Boback stops by his Dentistry North office in Aurora a couple of times a week and wonders where his 42 years of practice went, and how quickly they passed. He began in Aurora in 1973 after graduating from dental school, joining four dentists long since retired.

Now Boback has retired and closed the office. In an interview at the newspaper office he said, “It weighs on me that I wasn’t able to find somebody to take over the practice. Not being able to pass the practice on is one of the biggest disappointments.”

But it’s a sign of the times for many smaller communities, said 66-year-old Boback — similar to when he studied to become a dentist, a profession that first piqued his interest when he got braces on his teeth in the fifth grade.

The Hancock, Mich., native graduated from Greenway High School in Coleraine and attended dental school at the University of Minnesota. Back then the U of M had a three-year incentive program “because in rural Minnesota there was a shortage of dentists like it is now,” he said. “The university does not seem to be doing that now. Dental school is a very expensive program to fund. They take a lot of non-residents because they can charge higher fees. It’s been difficult for students from rural Minnesota to get accepted.” He served five years as president of the Northeastern District Dental Society.

Boback said there is a “plethora of dentists in the Twin Cities and in Duluth and Grand Rapids.” But it’s different on the Range. “Hibbing had a net loss of four dentists since November, Virginia has lost two. When I’m done in Aurora, it’s done.”

Boback said he tried for three years to find a prospective buyer. “We were real close, but they’re not interested in owning a business.” And he said he understands the dilemma. “Young folks come out (of college) with a lot of debt. They do not like to incur more” by purchasing a dental practice.

Boback enjoyed his practice in Aurora, where he lives with wife Diane, who taught special education in Babbitt. “When I came to town, Erie Mining Co. was booming, and I had a lot of patients. People in their 30s, 40s, 50s. Now their children are scattered.” LTV, formerly Erie, closed more than a dozen years ago, and 1,500 people lost their jobs.

He realizes that he practiced a long time. “Spending 42 years bent over” has taken a toll on his back. But he and his wife believe in physical fitness. They worked with cross country skiing Olympics in Utah in 2002, the Paralympics in Hayward, Wis., and the biathlon skiing at Giants Ridge, and they pheasant hunt in North Dakota.

Boback also recognizes the passage of time “when I’d see a third and fourth generation,” Boback said, smiling. “It was getting downright scary — how old am I?” Since 1970 he has sported his signature mustache. “I came home for Christmas break and had the mustache. My father said, ‘Let’s go for a ride. Nobody in our family has ever had a mustache.’” But Boback said he was keeping the mustache — and has all these years.

Over the years Boback has naturally seen many changes in dentistry. He said, “I never jumped into anything as soon as it was announced” and that he believes in trying “to keep costs reasonable.” The advent of dental implants has changed dentistry. “The original implants were difficult to do. If done properly, the results are certain to be successful.” Boback added, “It troubles me to some extent that they push a lot of aesthetic dentistry,” referring to whitening of teeth and similar procedures.

Boback will miss his longtime patients, but said of retirement, “It’s time.” As for plans — he will be going to Churchill on Canada’s Hudson Bay to see the polar bears, “but will miss deer hunting opener.”

His staff when he retired included Sherry Hannuksela, office manager; Melanie Olmstead, assistant; Faye Radtke, receptionist; Shelly Berts, parttime assistant; Jess Dishneau, hygienist; and Megan Peterson, custodian.

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