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Montana dentist retires after 65-year career

Miles City, Mont.—Dr. Arlo D. Nansel has called it a day after 65 years of dental practice, and the Montana Dental Association says he’s the longest practicing dentist in the state’s history.

Image: Dr. Nansel: The MDA presented him with a plaque in honor of his years of service.
Dr. Nansel: The MDA presented him with a plaque in honor of his years of service.

He joins an ever-increasing fraternity of dentists who have held membership in the ADA for 65 consecutive years. In the history of tripartite record-keeping, about 1,600 dentists have accomplished the feat.

Dr. Nansel, 88, opened his practice in Miles City in 1947. Throughout his career, he also served as president of the Montana Board of Dental Examiners and on the state board of health. 

“Generations of Montana dentists appreciate Dr. Nansel’s wonderful dedication to his profession,” said David Hemion, Montana Dental Association executive director. “As the longest practicing dentist in Montana’s history, his record of patient care and service to the state of Montana on the dental board and board of health are an inspiration to all.”

“I thought it probably was time,” said Dr. Nansel from his home only a few miles from the Flying N Ranch where his family raises cattle and award-winning Quarter and Appaloosa show horses.

He closed his practice June 30, having spent all 65 years in the same building. He started out upstairs with an older dentist who eventually sold the practice to Dr. Nansel, who then moved it downstairs. “I dismantled everything and sold my equipment and supplies and closed the doors,” said Dr. Nansel. There are five dentists in Miles City but he said it’s difficult to attract practice buyers. Mr. Hemion said that the demand for dentists in Miles City could grow in the future as it serves as a supply center for the Bakken oil field in North Dakota and Montana.

For now, Dr. Nansel is content to walk away knowing he spent a lifetime providing exceptional care to the people of Miles City. What will he miss the most? “The patients. That’s the toughest part.” By the end, he was treating the third generations of some families.

Among his fondest memories are the early days, when the railroads brought patients into Miles City—located in southeastern Montana—from North and South Dakota, Wyoming, eastern and southern Montana. “They came in on the train in the morning and stayed all day. We had a lot of patients. Then the railroad transportation closed to passengers.”

Still doing full-time work until the day he closed up shop, Dr. Nansel attributed his longevity to having good health and starting young. He was 24 when he began his practice in 1947 after graduating from the University of Southern California School of Dentistry, where he says he “was fortunate to get accepted and get a good education at a good school.” He gives additional credit to his dental team. “Without the assistants, it would have been a lot tougher to stay around. And I had many years of continuous dental hygiene help from my two daughters.” 

Signing off, Dr. Nansel said: “I feel fortunate that even though I’m leaving, I’m leaving it in good hands. I would ask the dentists here remaining to take good care of the people.”