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From the Last Frontier to the Deep South

Sept. 1, 2005
Alaska and Augusta, Ga., don’t have a lot in common (other than both beginning and ending with the letter “a”), but don’t tell that to Dr. Lee Baker.

Story by Kevin Henry, editor. Photos by Jeff Barnes, Augusta, Ga.

Alaska and Augusta, Ga., don’t have a lot in common (other than both beginning and ending with the letter “a”), but don’t tell that to Dr. Lee Baker. He believes the two can co-exist and make a huge impact on the lives of his pediatric patients.

In a town where golf reigns supreme, Dr. Baker has brought a taste of the Great White North to the Deep South. His two-year-old pediatric-only practice espouses the beauty of Alaska everywhere one turns. From the rustic cabin feel in the lobby to the totem pole that stands guard over the practice’s hygiene area, one can’t help but feel he or she has been transported to America’s 49th state.

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When thinking about opening his practice, there was never a question what theme the practice would carry. Dr. Baker and his wife, Susie, met in Anchorage and spent seven years there. When the couple decided to move back to their Southern roots to be closer to family, they brought with them a deeply embedded love for Alaska.

“We really think Alaska has so much to teach children here in the South,” Mrs. Baker said. “Alaska has an amazing and unique history, culture, and geography. It really became a part of our soul, and there are so many different facets about the state to learn about. We wanted to teach kids in Augusta about Alaska.”

And that’s exactly what they’ve done. Copper pans in place of sinks in the bathroom help explain the importance of the Gold Rush in Alaskan history. A float plane hovers over the hygiene area, signifying Alaska’s main mode of transportation. A dogsled team comprises an entire wall of an operatory, with dog tracks going across the acoustic tiles on the ceiling.

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“We got the idea from a hospital in Anchorage that developed an Alaskan-themed pediatric wing,” explained Dr. Baker. “We were amazed how that project turned out, and we hired that same company (The Larson Company, to design our office. They took the project to a new level, and it’s been amazing to come to work every day and see the kids learn about Alaska.”

Helping children learn about Alaska is a recent goal for Dr. Baker, but helping those same children learn about oral hygiene has been a long-time goal for the 37-year-old dentist. As a child, Dr. Baker went to what he describes as “a wonderful pediatric dentist,” and his positive experiences in that office inspired him to pursue pediatric dentistry as a profession.

“When I started dental school, I honestly went into it with an open mind about my future, but deep down, I wanted to be a pediatric dentist,” he said. “Honestly, I think working with kids is easier than working with adults. Children don’t have a preconceived notion about the dentist when they come here. They’re blank pages. They walk into our office and see murals and the totem pole and they’re distracted. This doesn’t seem like a dental office to them, and that helps create a positive experience for them.”

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While that may be the positive side of his job, Dr. Baker is also very aware of the challenges he faces every day.

“It breaks my heart to see kids walk into the practice with rampant tooth decay,” he said. “I really don’t think the parents are intentionally neglecting their children, but they don’t understand that you can’t keep giving juice to kids day and night. It’s very tragic to see a 4-year-old with 12 cavities. Yes, there are times I feel like a salmon going upstream in this battle, but I also know that when the parents see what their ‘loving neglect’ is doing to their children, they are eager to change that pattern.”

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With more than 3,000 active patients currently in his practice, Dr. Baker has found a successful niche in the competitive pediatric dentistry market. However, it didn’t appear that success would be discovered that quickly when the Baker family moved to Augusta in 2001. His initial plan to purchase an existing practice fell through, leaving the young dentist unemployed and 4,000 miles away from the Alaska he loved.

“I really wasn’t sure what would happen, but one of the busiest pediatric practices in town asked me to work with them,” Dr. Baker recalled. During this time, Dr. Baker was able to plan and design the practice of his dreams.

It didn’t take long for Dr. Baker to find the ideal spot for his practice. With an open parcel of land next to one of Augusta’s busiest pediatric doctor’s offices, Dr. Baker knew he had found his new home.

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“I really didn’t need to look anywhere else,” Dr. Baker smiled. “My next-door neighbor is a successful multi-doctor pediatric practice. If you take your child to the doctor there, you can’t help but see this practice. I’m also 90 seconds away from a hospital. I knew immediately I was in the right area to gain referrals and build the practice.”

It took about a year for the practice to go from design concept to reality. When it opened on June 26, 2003, Dr. Baker and his staff began letting people know about the practice through newspaper and Yellow Pages advertising. Roughly four months after the doors opened, the staff held an open house for the public, complete with fly-fishing and dogsledding demonstrations, both of which reinforced the practice’s unique Alaska theme.

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And what piece of the Alaska theme is the favorite for Dr. and Mrs. Baker?

“I love our glacier brush-up area,” said Mrs. Baker, referring to a section of the hallway that appears to be made out of a block of ice (see middle photo, this page). “I think children love to brush their teeth while feeling like they are right next to a cool glacier.”

“I love our two restorative rooms (see bottom photo, this page),” Dr. Baker offered. “We made sure when they were built that they would be quiet and cozy. We can close the door on those rooms and concentrate only on the patient in that room. The acoustics are excellent because of the acoustic tiles we had installed, as well as the carpet that is only on the floor in those rooms.”

And what is the favorite room for the patients? Dr. Baker said that’s a no-brainer.

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“Our video game room is popular with the little and big kids, as well as their parents,” he smiled. “We installed pre-fabricated video game consoles made for hospitals. We installed them into a rustic cabin facade and I know they’ve taken a beating over the last two years. However, we’ve never had to repair them yet, so I know they’re very durable.”

While Dr. and Mrs. Baker have a favorite area in the practice, they also have a favorite reason why everyone should visit Alaska at least once.

“God’s magnificent handiwork is amazingly displayed,” Mrs. Baker said. “People can see pictures of Alaska, but until you go there, you just don’t know how beautiful it is. Anyone who goes to Alaska needs to fish and get in a float plane to get a true flavor for the state.”

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“There really isn’t a best way to see the state,” Dr. Baker inserted. “Most people take a cruise, but you’ll really only see a small portion of Alaska that way. If you’re more adventurous, you need to use Anchorage as a hub and branch out and see the state from there. You have to be willing to fly on a floatplane as well. Most areas in Alaska are not serviced by roads, so a float plane is the only way to see some regions.”

Now two years removed from the construction process, Dr. Baker has some advice for anyone planning to build a new office.

“Build your practice as big as you can afford it. You will use every bit of space,” he said. “Think big and dream big. You’re never going to build your dream practice again, so make sure you make it as big as it can possibly be. It’s a joy for me to work in my dream practice and see people get ‘wowed’ when they walk in. That is very gratifying for me.”


Alaska’s 570,373 square miles is one-fifth the size of the continental U.S. and over twice the size of Texas.

Of the nation’s 20 highest peaks, 17 are in Alaska. That includes the legendary Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America at 20,320 feet. Mt. McKinley is the tallest mountain in the world from base to peak.

Alaska has an estimated 100,000 glaciers, which cover almost 5 percent of the state. There are more active glaciers in Alaska than in the rest of the inhabited world.

The Trans-Alaska Pipeline transports approximately 1.8 million barrels of oil a day from the North Slope to the port of Valdez in Prince William Sound. Oil moves at a rate of five to seven miles per hour and takes under six days to travel the 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to tankers in the port of Valdez.

Time Zones
Alaska has its own time zone, which is one hour earlier than Pacific Time. The westernmost Aleutian Islands are on Hawaii-Aleutian Time, two hours earlier than Pacific Time.

Bald Eagles
The largest known concentration of bald eagles, over 3,000, converges near Haines from October through January to feed on late run salmon in the Chilkat River.

Alaska has 3 million lakes, over 3,000 rivers, and more coastline (47,300 miles) than the entire continental United States.

Alaska has 15 National Parks, Preserves and Monuments, and 3.2 million acres of State Park lands.

Lake Hood, located in Anchorage, is the world’s busiest floatplane base. It averages 800 takeoffs and landings on a peak summer day.

Taken from