A lifetime spent keeping whites pearlyEveryone knows what “Xylitol” is, or at the very least sees the word plastered on chewing gum and toothpaste packages. But not many people know who introduced the amazing sweetener ― which fights cavities instead of causing them ― to South Korea.
While in Europe in the early 1970s, Yoon Heung-ryul learned of the effectiveness of the product, and introduced it to a skeptical public here. It’s just one accomplishment of a man who is passionate about other people’s teeth.
Mr. Yoon is not just any dentist, he is president of the World Dentist Federation, which counts 750,000 member dentists in 150 countries around the world. And it’s a position he takes seriously.
“I have never skipped one international conference for the dental association in the past 30 years,” he said.
As a student, Mr. Yoon was also interested in journalism. He worked on the school paper while attending Seoul National University and served as chief editor of the World Dental Federation’s magazine. When it came to pursuing a life calling, however, it was always going to be dentistry.
“Being a dentist as a profession has a clear motive of helping people to eat better, talk better and look better,” said Mr. Yoon. “Besides, dentists don’t have to retire as long as they are healthy.”
He said the biggest challenge facing the field of dentisry in Korea today is a tendency by the public to take dental health less seriously than general health.
“A regular checkup every six months is just as important as brushing, but Koreans tend to come to the clinic when they already have severe pain or bad breath,” said Mr. Yoon, stressing that pre-emptive care is most important.
“In Finland, there is a dental office in every elementary school because the country realizes it is more cost effective to teach people about dental health than to build dental clinics,” he said.
“Japan has its 2080 movement, in which people try to maintain 20 teeth until the age of 80,” he added.
Mr. Yoon said that it’s a general misconception that loosing teeth is a natural part of getting old. “When you grow old, do you lose a finger? Teeth are not lost by aging. It totally depends on how you maintain them,” he said.
Mr. Yoon’s term as president of the dental association ends next August. He plans to devote his extra free time to his patients.
by Choi Sun-young