With the exception of three years during WWII, there has been at least one practicing dentist in Whitley County with the last name Ballou since 1938.
Sometimes there have been as many as four at one time, and usually at least two. After June 30 this will no longer be the case.
Dr. Elbert Lewis “Bert” Ballou and his brother, Dr. Robert Ballou, who has practiced with him part time for the last two years, plan on closing their practice in Williamsburg at the end of June marking the end of an era of sorts.
Bert Ballou said there was no particular thing that prompted his decision other than it was just time.
“It’s been a good run but you have to go on no matter what,” Bert Ballou said.
Bert Ballou said that no one will be taking over the practice. He is just closing it up.
Bert Ballou, 81 has been a practicing dentist since August 1964 working out of the same office on Main Street for 53 years.
He has some patients that he has been seeing for his entire career, and it’s his patients that he is going to miss most.
“They are sort of like family. I sort of hate to leave but you have to sometimes,” Bert Ballou said.
Long line of dentist
The brothers come from a long line of people working in dentistry.
Robert and Bert’s uncle, Dr. O.L. Ballou, started practicing dentistry in 1938. With the exception of three years during WWII he practiced in Whitley County until he retired. Their older brother, Sam Ballou, also practiced in Whitley County for several years.
Then there is their first cousin that is a dentist in Richmond.
“He says he is the ‘northern’ dentist,” Robert said laughing.
In addition, their niece is a periodontist, who works in London along with her dentist husband.
Secret to success?
So what is the secret to staying in business for 46 or 53 years?
“Because you need to do something. What else are you going to do? I can’t go out there and dig up stumps all the time. I might as well do something,” Bert Ballou said laughingly. “Meeting people is the fun part of it. You meet different types of people. You learn a lot of psychology talking to people. You have to learn how to talk to some people. You have to handle certain patients certain ways.”
Robert Ballou gave a similar answer.
“We didn’t know any better,” Robert Ballou said laughingly. “It’s the family tradition. I never felt like it was just work. I’ve made a lot of good friends. I have patients that are friends.”
Robert Ballou, who doesn’t plan on full-time retirement, said the thing he will miss most is having something to do every day.
“I’ll have plenty to do. I won’t be bored,” he said.
Robert Ballou plans to continue working part-time in Richmond with his cousin, and to go on a mission trip to a foreign country, which is something Bert did once in Brazil.
“I don’t plan to quit. I just don’t want to work real hard,” Robert Ballou noted. “I plan to fish, raise a garden and go visit grandchildren and try to keep up with them.”
Robert Ballou, who practiced for 44 years in Corbin and the past two years in Williamsburg, said there are differences to practicing between the two towns.
“There is a lot more Medicaid and a lot less insurance here than there was in Corbin,” Robert Ballou noted.
Changes in dentistry
Things have changed since the pair first started practicing dentistry.
When Bert Ballou first started patient medical records were kept on an index card. If you filled it up, you just started another index card and stapled it to the old one, which isn’t the case any more.
He is currently looking for a big shredder in order to dispose of several old patient records, some of which he will have no reason to keep after June 30.
“When I stared in 1964, I think once every two or three months I would have an insurance case,” Bert Ballou recalled. “Most patients paid cash. There wasn’t any Medicaid then either. The charges were kind of ridiculous.”
He recalls Dr. Sam Ballou charging $3 for an extraction, but if he pulled two teeth the charge was only $5.
“I don’t know how you could make a living doing that now,” Bert Ballou added.
Robert Ballou said there is a “night and day” difference in materials used for fillings than there were 40-plus years ago.
“You don’t take out as many teeth now as you do preventive dentistry,” Robert Ballou said. “That is another thing, dental health in the southern end of Whitley County isn’t as good as it is in the northern end overall. That is my opinion. That is just what I see. Somebody might do a study and prove me wrong.”
Robert Ballou noted that the drug problem has made a “big” negative impact in dental health in Whitley County.
One common side effect of methamphetamine usage, which has been a major drug of choice in Whitley County for several years, is what’s called “meth mouth” or very serious and extreme tooth decay.
“There is a lot of meth mouth,” Robert Ballou noted.
The area’s prescription drug problem also comes into play sometimes when patients come in to get dental work done and want pain medication.
Bert Ballou recalls one case where a woman came in to have a tooth pulled that was just about falling out.
“I suspected she was wanting some drugs, and I made a point and said, ‘You won’t need any pain pills for this.’” Bert Ballou said. “She went home and told either her husband or boyfriend.”
Then he got a call from the significant other saying “this place was killing her” and that he was coming down there.
Bert sent his office staff to lunch early, and called Williamsburg Police Officer Russell Jones, who was waiting in the office when the man arrived.
After Bert informed him that in his professional opinion the woman didn’t need any paid medication, the significant other left.
Another big change in dentistry over the last 50 years is the number of female dentists in the profession.
Bert said there was one female dentist, who graduated in his class in 1964 from the University of Louisville.
Robert Ballou noted that his graduating class was the only one at the University of Kentucky that had all white males.
“Now probably half or better of all dental school graduate classes are female,” Robert Ballou said.
Both agree that is a good thing.
“It is good to get anybody going into it,” Robert Ballou added.
Good place to practice
Both Bert and Robert would encourage other dentists to open a practice in Williamsburg.
“It would be a good place for it, a good place,” Bert Ballou said.
“It is a real good place. I think so,” Robert Ballou added. “If I was 20 years younger I would do it myself.”
Robert Ballou said that he doesn’t know of any dentists planning to open a practice here though.
“I know of one Williamsburg resident, who about to graduate but I don’t know if she is coming back here or not,” Robert Ballou added.