Dave Lurye started his dental career on the Navajo reservation in the town of Fort Defiance, Ariz., as a member of the Indian Health Service.
When he first arrived, the front window of his house was boarded over. He asked why.
"They shot at the last dentist who lived here."
The next morning, Lurye woke up and there was snow on the ground and a horse grazing in his yard.
"It's was an adventure from the beginning," he said. "And it's never stopped."
After stops in Telluride and Durango, Lurye found his way to Winter Park in 1988. The dental practice here had been for sale and then abandoned.
"There was no dental practice in Grand County," he said. The community had been through a string of dentists that showed up for a couple years, then left. No one believed Lurye would be any different.
Twenty-one years later, Lurye still has no plans to leave.
When he decided to expand his practice, Winter Park Dental, Lurye searched for someone who would not only be a great dentist, but someone who would fit into Grand County.
"I had close to 50 applicants," he said. "I took probably 10 of those out to lunch. Mark Chua was the only one talking about recreation, not work.
"That's important up here."
Winter Park Dental now employs a staff of 10 and Lurye's life as a dentist has expanded into teaching at the University of Colorado Denver School of Dental Medicine and working with an international research group.
"I knew since I was 10 that I wanted to be a dentist," Lurye said. "This is my path and I enjoy it."
This month, Lurye was elected president of the Colorado Dental Association - a 3,000 member organization.
It's an interesting time to be at the head of a health care lobbying group as President Barack Obama and Congress begin to tackle health care reform.
Lurye was in Washington, D.C., recently representing the Colorado Dental Association in health care discussions.
"When you look at what's going on right now (in health care), it comes from the input of special interest groups," he said.
What he said in Washington and what he repeated at his acceptance speech for the presidency at a meeting of the Colorado Dental Association is that dentists must not limit themselves to dentistry when talking about health care policy if they want to truly serve their patients.
"Dentistry is only 3 percent of health care," Lurye said, "but our patients don't stop below the neck."
To help people understand the complexities of health care policy, Lurye often recommends the book "The Brave New World of Health Care" by Richard Lamm, former Colorado governor.
"I don't agree with everything he says, but one of the most important things he says is that we can't keep doing these heroic procedures when we should have been doing prevention."
Speaking for himself and not the Colorado Dental Association, Lurye said the biggest issue in dentistry is not the number of uninsured.
"It's the priorities of patients," he said. "I see people all the time who will buy a motorcycle or a snowmobile before they will pay for a dental procedure for their children.
"People say I don't have any competition up here, but that's not true. My competition is $5,000 mountain bikes and trips to Belize."
Until people change their priorities, nothing will change in health care - no matter how much governmental policy shifts.
"Our health as individuals is going to make or break our health as a society," he said.
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