Best Dentists in Hawaii
Hawai'i dentists name the best in their profession, whether you need a cavity filled or a new set of teeth.
Dentistry runs in Robert L. Ornelles' family. Both his father and his uncle are dentists. However, it was seeing how much enjoyment his father derived from helping patients that made him follow in his father's footsteps.
"He was a role model," says Ornelles, who shares an office with his father. Once a week the two work together. "Thursdays are always lively, busy days."
Advancements in technology have made it easier to correct dental problems, says Ornelles, but Hawai'i leads the nation in baby-bottle tooth decay. "The average is seven fillings by the time they are 10 years old."
Fluoridation can help, he says. "We have wonderful water that you don't want to tamper with, but when you see the good fluoridation does for children, you see the benefits."
A self-described "tinkerer, who is always trying to improve on something," Ornelles sees dentistry as the perfect career choice. "You make little changes and people beam. I also get instant satisfaction from getting people out of their discomfort."
Periodontist Edmund A. Cassella never imagined he would become a dentist. As a kid he feared them, and he jokes that he joined the profession "through the back door."
The center fielder on the softball team he was playing on was a dentist, and "he talked me into it," says Cassella, who was then an officer in the Army Medical Service Corps.
Now, "I absolutely love what I do. I'd rather be doing this than playing golf."
After graduating from Fairleigh Dickinson University Dental School and completing a residency, Cassella was assigned to various military posts, including Schofield Barracks in 1980. It was at this career juncture that he decided to specialize in periodontal surgery.
Periodontitis, or gum disease, is caused by bacterial plaque that, if not removed, hardens into tartar, causing swelling and bleeding of the gums. If untreated, people can loose their teeth from the disease.
"It doesn't hurt, so patients are not aware they have it and that it is progressive, where they can lose bone on a daily basis."
In 1990, Cassella considered private practice, but the Army offered him a final tour to Hawai'i he couldn't refuse. Much to his family's delight, Cassella decided to stay on at the end of his tour and open an office in Honolulu.
"We never got Hawai'i out of our system."
By the time patients go to see Dr. Dexter K.C. Wong, they have a serious tooth problem and are most likely in severe pain. They are also very apprehensive.
"People generally have a phobia about dentists, so I try really hard to make them feel at ease," says Wong, an endodontist with nearly 30 years' experience.
One way he helps patients overcome their fears is by making sure their teeth are totally numb, he says.
"If a patient feels a little, I stop," says Wong, in his soft, calming tone of voice. "There's no reason for a patient to feel pain."
Endodontists perform complex procedures such as root canals, bridges, dentures and implants. Thirty years ago, there were hardly any endodontists in Honolulu, says Wong. Dr. Warren Wakai, with whom he worked earlier in his career, was one of Hawai'i's few specialists and encouraged him to become an endodontist.
Wong attended the teaching hospital, Albert Einstein Medical Center, in Pennsylvania. "At that time, the founding fathers of endodontic dentistry were in the Philadelphia area, so I got to work with them. I was very fortunate."
Tom Cruise wore them, so did Ashley Judd and hundreds of other celebrities-braces, that is. Cruise wore see-through ceramic braces to correct a misalignment in his front teeth. It's hard to imagine that the man with one of Hollywood's most celebrated grins would need dental gear.
"Braces or not, he still has a wonderful smile," says orthodontist Kimi Caswell, with a chuckle.
Improving people's smiles has been a life-long goal of Caswell, ever since she was in junior high and accompanied her mother, who wore braces, to the orthodontist. "I knew then I wanted to be an orthodontist," says Caswell, a graduate of Northwestern University Dental School.
New orthodontic gear has made braces more appealing to children and adults, says Caswell, pointing out that 30 percent of her patients are adults. While, in some cases, metal braces are still recommended, most patients can be fitted with invisible braces, such as Invisalign, says Caswell, who was one of the first to use the transparent braces locally.
Being an orthodontist is very rewarding, she says. "People come to improve themselves and that's what we are here for. It's fun to be part of that transformation."
Pediatric dentist Beatrice Loo has been taking care of children's teeth for more than 30 years and she wouldn't have it any other way.
"I love kids and get so much satisfaction from seeing them get over their fear," says Loo. "You talk them through the process until they feel comfortable."
Loo shares an office with her husband, Dr. Raymond K. Loo, one-and-a-half days a week. The rest of the week she's at Kalihi-Palama's Women, Infants and Children's Division.
Originally from Jamaica, Loo went to boarding school in England, but the cold weather made her seek the sunnier side at the University of Miami for her undergraduate studies. She later went on to Case Western Reserve Dental School, where she met her husband, and graduated in 1962
"I was the only woman in a class of 92 students," says Loo. "There weren't that many women attending dental school in those days."
Like many of her colleagues, Loo would like to see the rate of tooth decay among Hawai'i's children go down. "Fluoridation would help, but also having parents control the amount of sugary snacks and sodas they give their young kids."
On the Cover:
General dentist Jon Yoshio Yoshimura graduated from the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, and has been practicing in Honolulu since 1993.
Rather than specializing in an area, Yoshimura chose to go into general dentistry, which offers a variety of dental care-from dental cleaning and fillings to crowns and root canals.
"I like doing everything, and I couldn't see limiting myself to one particular area," says Yoshimura. "I like to see patients throughout their lifetimes and offer them the services to keep them healthy and happy."
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