In this season of giving, all who know him say one Roseburg endodontist has gone above and beyond all expectations.
After more than 40 years, Dr. Alan Liesinger estimates he has given away approximately $1 million worth of dental services and supplies.
Now, he says, it’s time to hang up the forceps — at least for now.
During more than four decades, Liesinger has had a practice in Winston, where he did general dental work for 10 years, he had a satellite office in Coos Bay for a time.
Since 1990, he has concentrated on endodontics — diagnosing and treating tooth pain, performing root canals and, when necessary, extracting a tooth. He plans to retire from his dental office in the Harvard Medical Park on Dec. 31, but he won’t be finished with dental work just yet. He wants to keep giving back to people in need.
His donated dental care is one of the things he is most proud of.
Much of his charity work has been at his clinic in Mulegé, a small community of about 3,800 residents, along the Sea of Cortez on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, where he and his wife, Susan Liesinger, bought a house several years ago.
The Liesingers go to their clinic every year for four months, offering dental work to locals, who are 80 miles or more from basic dental services. Most can’t afford the transportation to get to and from the services, much less afford to have the dental work done.
Alan Liesinger started flying to Mexico about 25 years ago with fellow Roseburg dentists Tom Schmidt and Dick McDonald. Both dentists, who are also Rotary Club members, were instrumental in starting a small Rotary clinic in the town, and Liesinger also got involved in it.
“We used to take off in the spring and fly to Mexico, hopping from dirt strip to dirt strip,” Alan Liesinger said.
Liesinger eventually got a pilot’s license of his own and began flying back to the town each year.
“We’d spend two or three days helping the people out, and that kind of grew and there were more and more (dentists) coming and now it’s a pretty big deal, so my wife and I took over the ownership and leadership of (the clinic) 20-plus years ago,” he said.
Now the Liesingers furnish all the dental equipment and supplies and invite other dentists to come and spend some time. About 50 different dentists have come to help over the years. The clinic serves 500 to 800 patients each year, doing cleanings, extractions, silver and composite fillings, stainless steel crowns, root canals, and sealing the tooth after root. They don’t charge anything, but they do take donations to help run the clinic from those that can afford it.
“They have no dental service. When I’m not there, there is no dentist,” he said.
The Liesingers have also gone to Guatemala to offer dental services in remote villages and said the experiences working in the clinics have been fulfilling.
“It’s really rewarding when you grab the mirror and show them what you’ve done,” Susan Liesinger said. “We’ve had them cry, hug us, bring family members back to have more dental work done, bring us food or invite us to their homes. They are ever-so grateful.”
The Liesingers, after Alan Liesinger’s official retirement, are scheduled to go to Mexico again in February. So he won’t be working for pay, but he’ll be working and still enjoying it.
Alan Liesinger said every day seems to bring something different, and he’s seen some big changes over his career as an endodontist, especially in technology.
“I’ve got surgical operating microscopes and electronic devices to tell me where I’m at in a tooth, and I’ve got digital radiography and all kinds of stuff that wasn’t even thought of when I was in dental school,” Alan Liesinger said.
Alan Liesinger grew up in Sutherlin and is a 1967 graduate of Sutherlin High School. He attended the Oregon College of Education — now Western Oregon University. He then spent four years as a teacher and coach at South Umpqua High School before he opted for a career change.
“I decided to go to dental school, and I was shocked that they let me in,” he said.
They did let him in, so in 1974 it was off to the University of Oregon Dental School.
He and Susan were married 18 years ago and have worked together for 17 years.
Not only is she the office manager at the Roseburg clinic, but she also handles the operation of the clinic in Mexico.
“He’s been the best boss, personally, that I’ve ever worked for,” Susan Liesinger said. “He treats his staff and patients with kindness and respect.”
Martha Pitts, Alan’s longtime dental assistant, said there has always been great camaraderie and respect in the office.
“He really, really values education and he wants his staff to be educated,” Pitts said. “He’s not one of these doctors that says do it because I told you so, he wants you to know why he’s asking you to do it.”
The Liesingers plan to continue to run the clinic in Mulegé for as long as they can, and are also trying to recruit an endodontist to take over the Roseburg practice. But for now, they want to keep doing the charity work.
“You try and impact as many people as you can with that skill set and go as long as you can before age catches up with you, but I’ve never lost the desire to do it,” Alan Liesinger said.