Something to Smile About: Korean to Lead Dental Federation

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Something to Smile About: Korean to Lead Dental Federation

Dr. Yoon Heung-ryul may be 60, but this dentist is far from being long in the tooth. In fact, Mr. Yoon has just been elected as president of the World Dentist Federation, for a term that runs from 2003 to 2005.

Not only is Dr. Yoon happy, but dentists around Korea are pleased as well. "The Korean dental community supported me so much," said Mr. Yoon. "For them, a Korean president is a dream come true."

He will be the first Korean to lead the global federation.

Dr. Yoon's recent election is the result of a lifetime of service to dentistry and the community. His father advised him in 1959 to pursue dentistry instead of medicine in order to avoid emergency calls and have some free time for a personal life. The younger Yoon followed half of that advice - he became a dentist, but instead of enjoying a private life of leisure, he has spent many years and innumerable hours working for the World Dentist Federation, including six years as a counselor and three years as treasurer. "For a long time I was not a good husband, father or friend," he said.

On Sept. 27, the general assembly of the World Dentist Federation gathered in Kuala Lumpur to elect its next president. Dr. Yoon captured 68 percent of the vote.

The federation deals with a great variety of dentistry-related issues. The federation, founded in 1900 in Paris, primarily exchanges information on techniques and technology for treating people's teeth. But the 750,000-member organization, the world's largest and most influential "dentist club," also deals with political issues, such as the issue of oral health worldwide. Today, the ratio of dentists to patients differs greatly in different parts of the world: In Scandinavian countries, for example, there is one dentist for every 1,000 patients, whereas in some southern African countries, there can be one dentist for 1 million mouths - an unmanageable task.

Dr. Yoon, as president, will be able to influence the organization's policies, and one of his goals is to fight the worldwide imbalance in dentistry. "I know which way to go," Dr. Yoon said, explaining how he will directly address governments about trying to make good oral health more available around the world.

For 36 years Dr. Yoon has worked in many different situations: He treated soldiers during his military service in the Korean air force; helped patients in Norway and in New York when he was a foreign student; and he has worked hard for the people of Seoul. Today, he specializes in periodontics.

Dr. Yoon has worked out of the Kyobo Building in Gwanghwamun for 20 years. In his fifth-floor offices, his patients are calmed by classical music, overcoming the jolting honks of the cars outside.

Though Dr. Yoon has been practicing dentistry for four decades, he recognizes that modern oral health is a somewhat recent arrival on the peninsula. "Once in a while you have some patients with 'dentistphobia,'" he said. "Usually they are elderly persons who still remember their first visit to a dentist, when it was still very painful. Especially during the Korean War so-called dentists lacked equipment and anesthetic."

Times have changed.

by Sonja Ernst

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