Mark Parhar

Mark Parhar’s career has taken him to Vietnam and Cambodia, and into the locker rooms of major sports teams.

It’s a common scene: a kid being dragged to the dentist’s office kicking and screaming, his parents resorting to bribes, the kid having none of it. But Mark Parhar, BSc’91, DMD’97, was not common in that respect. He recalls childhood visits to his dentist as being more like enjoyable field trips – a chance to indulge his curiosity, to ask questions and learn.

Seated firmly in the patient’s chair, Mark would chat away comfortably to the dentist, a trait that would serve him well when he became one himself. A key quality of a good dentist, after all, is the ability to talk to people and put them at ease, even when they may be on the verge of a mild to severe anxiety attack.

Treating patients with respect and care – talking to them instead of talking down to them – is an approach that has resonated with Mark since his days as a UBC Dentistry student. It’s a mantra that has informed both his successful professional practice and his roles as a volunteer.

Ten years after obtaining his degree, Mark has returned to the busy halls of UBC’s dental school to take a specialty program in endodontics, aka root canal surgery. He can also be found lending a hand to undergraduates, answering their questions or providing hands-on guidance in root canal surgeries.

The artistry of dentistry has never been lost on Mark. Even root canal procedures, he maintains, require a certain aesthetic sensibility. Carving dentures; evaluating x-rays; understanding the anatomy of teeth – all involve symmetry and flow and shape. Even before dental school, the creative mechanics of dentistry drew Mark in and compelled him to explore the field beyond the textbooks.

On Tuesday evenings he would often visit the Reach clinic on Commercial Drive to observe UBC dental students perform free extractions. As a dental student, and later as a dental professional, he chose to volunteer with dental clinics providing free services in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, and also overseas as part of the UBC Dentistry Outreach Program. On a trip to bustling Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Mark spent three weeks performing countless dental extractions for free at local hospitals. He found the need for basic dental care to be equally great in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where tooth decay is a common and frequently untreated problem among locals.

Alongside dentistry and volunteerism, Mark’s other great passion has always been sports. His involvement in sports dentistry has taken him to a myriad of events, such as the World Junior Hockey Championships, and work with an assortment of teams including the Vancouver Giants. For Mark, handling the intensity of dental trauma emergencies in the context of competitive sports provides its own adrenaline rush.  Amid flying pucks and flailing sticks, players’ teeth are common casualties; mouth guards (of which Mark is a strong advocate), aren’t always 100 per cent effective.

Mark’s work with athletes continued with his role as the co-dental manager for VANOC at last year’s Winter Olympics. This responsibility presented its share of Olympic-sized stress for Mark. With a pint-sized budget, volunteers to coordinate, and daunting logistical concerns, he was expected to establish a two-month dental program worthy of the world’s greatest athletes and their acrobatic, heavy-hitting feats.

Despite the challenges for the dentist, the rewards were many for the sports buff. Among them was the thrill of holding a Canadian athlete’s gold medal, and a visit to the clinic by Detroit Red Wings defenseman Henrik Zetterberg, which caused quite a stir. Visits by famous athletes were always a special treat, but Mark recalls how even a glimpse of hockey hero Sidney Crosby walking in the village left clinic staff starstruck.

Even as a kid, Mark has always known there was more to a dentist’s work than simply fixing teeth. He discovered the side of dentistry that is often hidden, the side that is exhilarating and exciting, creative and crafty, fun and fulfilling in unexpected ways.

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