Q&A with Dr. James Wang, dentist at Spirit River Dental

Dr. James Wang

We’re told you are from Vancouver. What brought you to Spirit River?
Initially a two-year work term in Spirit River was supposed to act as a valuable learning experience, as due to the rural location a general dentist is able to see patients and cases that in a big city would warrant a referral to a specialist. However, after falling in love with the area and the people, there is currently no plans on moving back to Vancouver.

How do you like it here so far?
Compared to Vancouver, people here are much more friendly and personable, and it’s such a breath of fresh air to walk on the streets here and have folks greet and smile at you. It also helps that the staff at Spirit River Dental are incredible – it really feels like a working with family every day at the office.

Your bio says you have a love for artistry. How does this combine with being a dentist?
Dentistry, at its core, is a health care profession, and so the health and function of the dentition will always come first when we’re talking about treating and restoring teeth. However, because teeth are one of the first things that people notice when they look at you or talk to you, it is almost as important to have restorations that not only functions well but look natural and is aesthetically pleasing. This is where the artistry in dentistry comes into play. Moreover, just like most things in nature, function tends to follow form. As such a good-looking restoration, in most cases, will also be the most functional restoration.

You seem to work quite well with your team, which is not only important for your staff but also for patients. How did you go about establishing this type of work environment?
It is very important for me to have a relaxed and comfortable environment at work; it not only reduces stress on the staff, but also allows the patients to be as at ease as possible in a stressful environment such as a dental office. But for us establishing this type of environment comes fairly natural, as I’ve always tended to be easy-going, and all of our amazing staff at Spirit River Dental are very similar in that respect.

What is the vision of your practice?
Being a relatively young dentist trained in Vancouver, it was easy for me to become exposed to modern innovations in dentistry in terms of materials, equipment and techniques. So it’s our vision at Spirit River Dental to bring all of that to the communities we serve. Our goal is to educate patients on not only the most up-to-date treatment options available when problems do arise, but also how to properly maintain oral hygiene at home as well as with preventative dentistry to minimize the chances of problems ever arising.

You offer a variety of treatment options. Will painless laser dentistry become part of those options? Will this be the way of the future?
We are constantly striving to deliver both the best patient experience as well as the best treatment outcomes, and it is a life-long learning process as anything in life to accomplish this goal. At this point in time, laser dentistry for the most part is used to address issues in the gums as opposed to problems in the actual teeth, but we are absolutely seeking to offer the most technologically advanced dentistry possible.

At what age do you suggest children start getting checkups?
Children will typically have all their baby teeth in place at around age three, and it is at this time that we recommend kids make their first trip to the dentist.

How do you get children to get used to a visit to a dentist?
We make it a point to start slow with kids. Typically the first appointment will be really easy – a cleaning and an exam. Once we get them comfortable in the dental chair, we can start addressing problems in their teeth, if there are. We always make sure that children know what to expect and that nothing catches them by surprise – we do this by telling them what we are going to do, showing them how we are going to do it, before we finally proceed with whatever it is we’re trying to do.

Do you accommodate people with dental phobias?
Dental phobias are typically caused by traumatic experiences as a child. So the first step in dealing with dental phobias is to provide good experiences for children to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Once a person does develop a dental phobia, however, we’ve found that most patients respond surprisingly well to simply being treated like a human being – before even talking about teeth we try to put patients at ease by simply having a conversation. And when patients realize that dental professionals are people and not just a drill or scaler, everything becomes much less scary. In cases of severe dental phobia that doesn’t respond to that, we do offer several modes of sedation as well.

What is TMJ (temporomandibular joint) pain? And is that something to discuss with a dentist?
The temporomandibular joint is the jaw joint that connects your lower jaw to your skull, and it is absolutely something to discuss with a dentist. What most people don’t know is that, as dentists, we are trained to not only diagnose and treat problems in teeth, but the entire oral cavity as well as certain areas in the head and neck, including the TMJ.

How about teeth grinding? Is that something I should take seriously?
Teeth grinding causes wear in the enamel and dentin and should absolutely be taken seriously. If not treated properly and quickly, grinding can cause irreparable damage that can sometimes warrant extraction of the entire dentition.

Should I be concerned about dental X-rays? How much radiation does a dental X-ray deliver?
Dental X-rays have advanced in the modern era to deliver very minimal radiation. As long as no other health issues are present, the radiation exposure due to routine dental X-rays are negligible and are comparable to the radiation exposure from a normal day out in the sun.

If I floss and brush really well every day, how come I still get tartar?
The reasons why plaque build-up and cavities form can stem from a variety of different causes. The bacteria that resides in some mouths are more prone to colony formation, and so results in more tartar build-up than normal even in someone with good oral hygiene. In some cases oral hygiene techniques may be deficient – it is not enough to just brush and floss; it’s important to brush and floss with correct technique. This is something that we try to teach each and every patient at Spirit River Dental.

What type of toothbrush, floss and toothpaste do you generally recommend?
The type of toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste really depends on and should be catered to each patient’s individual needs. But generally, we recommend an electric toothbrush with as soft bristles as you can find, and a toothpaste that has at least some form of fluoride. For floss, the technique is more important than what kind of floss you use. So whichever kind of floss that allows the patient to comfortably floss with correct technique is the kind that we recommend.

Do I really have to go to the dentist once every six months?
Plaque and calculus will start to build as soon as you leave the dental office following a cleaning, and the rate at which they build is different for each patient. For most patients, a cleaning every six months is sufficient to remove all of the plaque and calculus that accumulates in order to prevent chronic gingival and periodontal inflammation, which can lead to gum disease and early tooth loss.

Finally, where can we find you on your down time? How do you relax?
You can find me at Freddy’s gym in Spirit River most days after work, riding my bike around town in Grande Prairie in the summer time, in the hills on my snowboard in the winter time, or just at home hanging out with my son (cat) Kennedy.