Dentist charts new course for ‘life after dentistry’ |

Dentist charts new course for ‘life after dentistry’

Retiring dentist Neal Fenton is surrounded by his work family, from left, Cathy Copeland, Debbie Cook, Becky Briggs, Jennifer Hume, Cheryl Ivy, Lyndi Smith and Amy Nielson.
Sasha Nelson/staff

CRAIG — While having goals is important, achieving them, then sticking to them throughout a lifetime is a noteworthy achievement.

“When in high school, I made a chart of my goals in life, and becoming a dentist was one of my goals,” said Doctor of Dental Surgery Neal Fenton, who is retiring after more than 30 years serving residents of Craig and Moffat County.

Fenton graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1985. During his final semester of dental school, he began searching for a practice he could acquire, a search that led him to a three-room clinic at 580 Pershing St. in Craig.

“I jumped on a train to Denver, then rented a car to drive from Denver to Craig to meet the dentist — John Bauman — who was selling the practice,” Fenton said. “This is where I decided to go.”

At the time, he was married with three children.

“We packed-up a U-Haul and traveled to Craig,” Fenton said.

The dentist and his family have called Craig home ever since, expanding the original clinic — where patients used to sit knee-to-knee — as his list of clients grew.

“We didn’t buy fancy cars or boats or anything like that. We bought one house, after we rented for awhile, and we are still living in that house,” he said. “We grew substantially. Patients were very kind to us, very loyal and good people.”

One of the biggest changes to the dental practice occurred in 1989, when the office transitioned from handwritten to computer-based charts.

“We had a small server and computers in a couple rooms. Now, we have a big server and about 10 computers,” Fenton said. “We are more technologically advanced. We’ve had to keep up with digital X-rays that result in an 1/8th of the radiation exposure as the film packets that were previously used.”

Another change has been a shift from using gold in fillings and crowns. Now, “more durable and aesthetic” zirconium and ceramic stacked crowns are used instead.

Fenton also contributed to efforts to improve access to care by helping start the Northwest Dental Coalition, now Northwest Colorado Health Dental Clinic.

“They found correlation between oral health and heart disease. If you have good dental health, gums and teeth, you have better overall health. … The first place you get alimentation is through your mouth, so if you have problems there, you get problems other places,“ he said with regard to the importance of access to dental care.

Through the years, Fenton has remained true to his course and his goals. He attributed his success to treating each patient as an individual.

“We know what they are going through,” he said.

He also has maintained his excitement about work.

“I don’t mind getting up and getting here early. When I go home, I turn it off and don’t worry about it. There is life after dentistry. It makes it so that when you come back, you are excited to come back again,” he said.

Thinking back to the day he decided to become a dentist, Fenton said it was, in part, the lifestyle that drew him to the work.

“When I was a kid, I went to the dentist often. I was lying in the chair, and I heard the dentist say he was going to the golf course at lunch, and I thought I wanted to do that,” Fenton said. After a brief pause, he added, “I’ve never made it to the golf course during lunch. I’m not sure how he did it.”

Fenton did become a golfer “until my mother started beating me.”

While golf might not be high on his retirement agenda, spending time with his family tops the list, and that includes traveling across the county with Coleen Fenton, his wife of 39 years, to spend time with his four grown children and 12 — six girls and six boys — grandchildren.

He also looks forward to continuing his activity with his church and restoring VW Bugs, the car his parents had when he was growing up.

“We feel like we have to take care of our family,” Fenton said, though he’ll also cherish memories — some stored in a time capsule and scrapbook — of his work family. “We did this as a team, and I have a wonderful team,” he said.

On July 2, Fenton charted a new course. He sold his practice to recent dental school graduate, Doctor of Dental Surgery Jason Shockley, who moved to Craig from Michigan.

The clinic also has a new name — Yampa Valley Family Dentistry. The two dentists have been working together through July to ensure a smooth transition.

“People have been very kind and supportive,” Fenton said. “I’m grateful to be in their lives.”

Contact Sasha Nelson at 970-875-1794 or