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Oriental Dental Closes
But the dental team stays
July 21, 2020

t’s hard to say good-bye when you’re not really going anywhere.

Roger and Elizabeth Cordes arrived in Oriental in May of 2005, ready to tackle a week-long sailing course at the Oriental School of Sailing. They’d come from Raleigh where Elizabeth had a dental practice and Roger, who’d quit his career in information technology, had just completed his BA in Creative Writing.

Oriental Dental Closes
Elizabeth and Roger Cordes owned and operated Oriental Dental for nearly 15 years.

By August, their life in Raleigh had been packed away. Armed with a business plan for a dental practice in a town with more boats than people, the Cordes bought Wally’s Chapin’s house on Hodges Street, complete with separate sail loft, and began renovations. Wally sold the house himself, showing the Cordes photos of his home during Hurricane Isabel. One of those pictures showed Wally kayaking in his flooded living room. Some people would call it foreshadowing.

For the next five months, they renovated the sail loft – a building with no electricity, water, sewage, or other infrastructure – in a two-chair dental office.

Running a dentist’s office comes with very high overhead. They knew it would be tricky to make ends meet with only two chairs. Roger took on the key position of front desk manager. Oriental Dental served the community and the many cruisers that came through town needing dental care. Elizabeth and Roger agreed that it can be hard to work with your spouse, but they made it work for ten years.

Oriental Dental Closes
Inside the office.

The overhead issue never abated. In 2011, Hurricane Irene flooded the home and office on Hodges St. The Cordes had the home raised and renovated while renting a condo from Bunky and Peggy King, to whom they are still grateful. The office was able to have carpeting replaced, and the equipment still worked. It was the first time in years they’d actually had to drive to work.

It was almost a year after the hurricane when they moved back into the house and finished painting the new downstairs. Irene had been a hundred year flood and it was not expected there’d be another.

Roger continued to serve as chief administrator and business office manager while taking on doing some dental assisting work as needed. Three years or so after Irene, the Cordes realized they’d need work outside the practice if they were going to keep Oriental Dental afloat.

Oriental Dental Closes
Raising the Cordes’ home in 2012. Laura Turgeon’s drawing ‘Molar Hill’.
Oriental Dental Closes
Laura Turgeon’s note for ‘Molar Hill’.

Elizabeth accepted a contract position with the state working at Pamlico Correctional, helping to open the first dental clinic there. Roger signed on as a copy writer with a dental supply company in Greenville. While the dental practice underwent some schedule changes, Elizabeth and Roger still appreciated walking only a few steps to take care of their dental family and the occasional off-hours dental emergency.

Seven years after Hurricane Isabel – a once-in-a-hundred-year-storm – hit town, Hurricane Florence struck. This time around, the house was safe. The dental office was not spared, flooding worse than before. Much of the equipment was ruined, including one of the two dental chairs. With the practice’s capacity to serve greatly diminished, Elizabeth made the difficult decision to focus on maintenance of regular patients only. Patients with outstanding significant dental needs were referred out. There would be no new patients until the office could be renovated.

Oriental Dental Closes
From Wally Chapin’s sail loft to Oriental Dental.

In January of 2020, patients received notice Oriental Dental would be closed during April and May for improvements and renovations. The foundation was finished, the air conditioner was replaced, and the building was raised – all on schedule.

Then concerns about the COVID-19 virus began growing. In April, recommendations and mandates from the CDC and the American Dental Association, as well as the state dental society, made it clear the risks outweighed the benefits for all involved. On May 1, Elizabeth and Roger sent a letter to their active patients. Oriental Dental would permanently close effective June 1.

Patients have until July 30 to request records. The phone number is officially defunct as of July 31.

“We are very grateful for the privilege of providing dental care in this most special community,” Elizabeth said. “As sad as we are to end the Oriental Dental chapter of our life here, we look forward to joining our friends in making the most of living and contributing in Pamlico County as old farts.”

Oriental Dental Closes
Dentist’s Home by Laura Turgeon, from 2008.

Posted Tuesday July 21, 2020 by Allison DeWeese

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