Low cost dental services for teens

By Eddie Kim, 16, Palisades HS
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Resistance is futileā€”No matter your age, you have to go to the dentist, says Eddie Kim (right), shown with his dad, the dentist.

Being the son of a dentist is hard work, but there are perks to the job. In 16 years, I have learned quite a few things about dental hygiene. There are always certain questions I receive when people find out my father is a dentist.

Open your mouth, let me see.

(Wait a minute … that is not a question … WELL I STILL GET IT A LOT!)

Do you get to eat candy and soda?

Yes, actually, I eat and drink a substantial amount of junk food; more than the average consumer. I love root beer, orange soda, See’s candy, Milky Way bars, any sour candy and pretty much anything sweet in a wrapper. I’m really skinny, and my dad is more worried about me not eating anything rather then the resulting dental work. He knew if I had a problem, he would take care of it.

Have you ever had a cavity?

I have had so many, I’m embarrassed. I used to kick and scream every time I had a cavity treated.

Does your dad punish you or torture you or threaten you with dental work?

Are you kidding?! My dad uses his powers for good, not evil. He would never harm anyone.

What do you personally do to keep your teeth in shape?

I try to drink stuff with no harmful colors and brush with a nice toothbrush / toothpaste tag-team. I procrastinate on flossing, but I do it when I can.

What are your favorite brands of toothpaste and toothbrushes?

I really do not have favorites. I try to choose toothpaste that has a good flavor, nice feel, whitening, and leaves my breath fresh for a longer period of time. Now, for the toothbrush, I like to have soft bristles, but a larger brushing area. A nice rubberized grip with a stylish handle design is the perfect brush for me.

My dad says technological advances have dramatically improved tooth brushes and toothpaste over the years. He advises teens, and everyone else, to consult their dentists for brands that suit their needs.

Does flossing do anything?

Flossing is really helpful. It aids tooth brushing and overall dental hygiene. Flossing helps stimulate healthy gums and helps prevent gum disease. Gum disease is also related to heart disease, and therefore, flossing helps your entire health. However, flossing alone is not the answer. Dental and oral hygiene is a package deal; flossing, brushing, regular dental visits, as well as healthy eating habits result in a beautiful bright smile.

What exactly does mouth wash do?

Mouth wash is like a soap, or shampoo, with a flavor agent. It cannot help gum disease, but it does temporarily kill germs. It is also beneficial because of its fragrance and flavor, leaving the user feeling cleansed and again, temporarily, fresh of breath. However, there are certain things to look for, when shopping for mouth wash. You should be aware of anti-bacterial agents present in the mouth rinse and avoid mouth rinse containing alcohol, which has been linked to mouth cancer.

Do those dental gums really help? Is there anything bad about them?

There are some minor reasons as to why gum is good. Gum helps salivation, which in turn "rinses" your mouth. Dry areas lead to germ growth. It also helps to break down tiny food particles and works out your chewing muscles. Of course, dentists recommend sugar-free gum because sugar equals cavities. But excessive gum chewing leads to acid build up in the stomach, which can cause painful cramps during physical activity.

What’s up with that cherry anesthetic that they give you at the dentist?

The cherry anesthetic is a topical Novocain that numbs your gums so that the actual needle full of Novocain can enter less painfully. It is not always cherry. It comes in a variety of flavors; cherry, banana, strawberry, mint, bubble gum and piña colada. The flavor has no effect on the potency.

Who’s scared of the dentist?

My dad says many patients fear the shot of Novocain or the drilling required in the dental procedures. My dad tries different things to help both kids and adults overcome their fear. The first thing he does is talk to the patient to find out about his fears and his past medical history. He explains what procedures are needed and discusses ways to make patients more comfortable. My father has found that, if you properly communicate, and take care of the patient, they often lose their phobia by the next visit.

Some people take a prescribed sedative before the procedure to help calm their nerves. They can also take nitrous oxide, also known as "laughing gas" (or the extra propellant street racers use—NOS).
My dad also warms the Novocain to body temperature so the injection is less painful. Some patients listen to their favorite CD or watch a movie during the treatment.

If patients are scared of drilling, there are new techniques being developed with micro abrasion and laser. In less severe cases of cavity, micro abrasion, which uses high-powered air along with sand-blasting technology, can be used.

What do you say to the people who never go to the dentist? Why should they?

If you do not brush, floss, and make regular visits to your dentist, you may develop mouth diseases such as gingivitis and gum disease. You can lose your teeth or develop serious illnesses like mouth cancer, which can be fatal. Teeth are very important to your health. You only have a pair of them for your entire life and only one set to use permanently. So it’s very important to go to the dentist and take care of your teeth at home.

If you brush your teeth three times a day, is that just as good as going to the dentist?

Even if you brush your teeth, you still have to go to the dentist. Your dentist can assess problems that you may not notice, prescribe helpful medication, and offer different products not available to the general public. They can also treat your dental problems with professional grade tools and facilities, and of course, with a professional education in the field of dentistry.

What is the most serious case your dad had to work on?

My father once treated a homeless man named "Cat-Man," named for his love of cats. He was not educated and did not know the importance of oral hygiene. He did not eat healthily or regularly, and he did not even own a toothbrush. Although he was eligible for Denti-Cal, the government dental program, he had never been to a dentist before. Every one of his teeth was rotten and every section of gum-line was inflamed. He suffered from heavy tartar and had heavy stains on his teeth. The patient wanted a whiter smile and overall, perfect teeth. To achieve that, he needed a full-mouth construction. Either a full-tooth denture had to be put in (pulling out every tooth), or all the teeth had to be repaired. But before my father could start work, Denti-Cal required a one-month authorization period. During this time, the patient passed away. My father was notified by one of his friends. It was really sad. The moral of this story is that oral care is very important for all people and that if you have a chance to get that bright smile, take it.

What is the importance of fluoride?

Basically, fluoride prevents cavities. It is very important for kids to have fluoride when their teeth are growing. Dentists recommend buying toothpaste with fluoride and coming into the dental office to receive a topical fluoride application treatment procedure along with your tooth cleaning.

What can I do to keep my teeth white?

Avoid foods and drinks with heavy coloring including coffee, cola, wine and anything else with a color additive.

What do you think of whitening systems? Are they harmful? Are they effective?

Whitening systems can make teeth whiter and brighter. Products available to the general public over the counter may work, but they come with their share of problems. They may take longer to take effect, which can cost you more money. If used incorrectly, you may damage your tooth enamel or develop sensitive teeth. They also give you more limited options in shades, color and even location—such as Crest White Strips, which only whiten the front teeth. The best idea is to consult your dentist about whitening options.

What kind of cool stuff can your dentist do, that most people don’t know about?

Well, my dad can make custom mouth guards in custom colors. For example, he made a custom mouth guard for a patient on the football team, in his school colors and also attached a helmet strap to it. My father can also make motion-picture quality costume teeth, ranging from buckteeth to vampire teeth. He can do it all!

What kind of training did your dad need to become a dentist?

My father started his dental training in Korea, and through a special dental program he also studied in America at the University of Southern California. His class dissected a human body, along with studying prescriptions and medical drugs, just like a pharmacist. My dad told me that his job is sometimes ten times harder than a surgeon’s job because a mouth is so small, and the workspace is about 50 times smaller. In Korea, he went through all the standard training any dentist would go through, but there was one thing that sounded more like an art / science project. The professor gave him a dead fish, and told him to bring back the skeleton. He had to slowly boil the fish, and using dental instruments pick off the meat and skin, leaving all the tiny bones intact. As an assignment at USC, he was given a block of pink wax, the same wax you might see your dentist using for dental moldings. The USC professor told him to carve a rose in 3-D out of the wax, using dental tools.

What kind of cool stuff can your dentist do, that most people don’t know about?

Well, my dad can make custom mouth guards in custom colors. For example, he made a custom mouth guard for a patient on the football team, in his school colors and also attached a helmet strap to it. My father can also make motion-picture quality costume teeth, ranging from the "Billy-Bob-Buckteeth" to vampire teeth. He can do it all!

And finally …

If you want the real deal, you’ll have to go to your dentist. During school, after school, teenagers are pretty well-entertained with stuff to do. When will we get a chance to go back to the dental office? Maybe during the summer…

Random fact: your mouth is clinically and legally the dirtiest place on your entire body.

Random fact: Dentists have one of the highest suicide rates out of every profession. So do your dentist a favor and don’t kick and scream every time you meet Mr. Needle.