Dentist: A word in the English language that is able to evoke fear, intimidation, relief (ever had a brain-splitting toothache that the dentist fixed?), trepidation, and awe all at once.
I’ll admit that my personal word associations border more on fear than anything else. The dentist, to me, is akin to necessary evil. You see, like many others, I grew up in a time during which the pediatric dentist seemed a fictional character from a sci-fi future. There was no such thing, in the real world. As such, my first memories of the dentist are rooted in anxiety and sweaty palms gripping the sides of the dental chair for dear life. My childhood dentist was a large, heavy-handed woman, who never cracked a smile, was definitely not child-friendly, and wielded her tools more like instruments of torture than implements of health and well-being. The sound of the drill was the herald of pain and was capable of inducing panic-related palpitations, while the strange and pungent smell (kind of like fennel) of dental amalgam was enough to provoke a wave of nausea. To this day (sadly), whenever I sit in a dental chair, I have to fight the urge to bolt.
Mercifully, kids these days no longer have to deal with the trauma endured by generations past. Nowadays, a trip to the dentist generally spells adventure, fun (the clinic of my daughter’s pediatric dentist has a pretty amazing larger-than-kid-size wooden playhouse), and a colourful new toothbrush at the end of the session. With a tube of flavoured toothpaste to go with it, if you’re good. A far cry from the Gestapo-type dental experience of my childhood.
Pediatric dentists are God’s gift to parents, children, and bright, healthy smiles the world over. They are among the newer people in your neighborhood, and most definitely a welcome addition.
Filipino-Canadian pediatric dentist, Dr. Mark Casafrancisco is well-aware of the vital role he plays in today’s society.
A series of serendipitous events
Perhaps it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say that Doc Mark’s life is marked by serendipity. His very birth was serendipitous. Mark’s mom and dad, both Filipino, had already met while in the Philippines; were, in fact, secretly being matched for each other. It wasn’t to be. Mom, a nurse by profession, and Dad, an accountant by training, both moved to Canada. Separately. She went to Montreal; he, to Toronto.
Some years later, the two re-connected in Canada, only this time, there were sparks. They got married in the Philippines, moved back to Canada, and Mark was born shortly thereafter, in 1977.
Looking to the signs
Another major milestone in Doc Mark’s life – the call to dentistry – seemed marked by serendipity.
“I actually originally wanted to go into medicine, because I had a number of relatives who had gone that route. But I had a little bit of an awakening in my undergrad years. And I had a little bit of challenge trying to go into medicine, because of some of the requirements. So I had the awakening, that ‘maybe dentistry is my path.’ You look to the signs, and when I formally committed myself to that route, it seemed very easy; there were no barriers,” he said.
The only child and the empty nest
Mark describes growing up in two worlds and two cultures as “interesting, to say the least.”
An only child, he recalls how challenging it was to take a step towards independence, especially being part of a close-knit Filipino family.
“I left for Kentucky in the US, to study. It was my first time to leave home, and I was gone for two and a half years. This challenged the Filipino expectation of sometimes continuing to live with your parents until you really need to go. It was a challenge for both my parents and I. It was a bit of a heartbreaker to leave to pursue school and then return home, only to leave again and go on your own. But it was a growing point for me,” he shared. He studied, established his practice, and eventually, got married.
He adds, however, that: “Being an only child, I can understand; I see it. Even though I don’t have kids of my own yet. My friends, would say ‘just remember, you were their (my parents) everything’.”
The decision to specialize in pediatric dentistry was very likely a godsend. Maybe even literally.
Mark had been singing in his parish church choir for some time (throughout junior high and dental school) when it dawned on him to pursue pediatric dentistry. He developed an interest in the field because of working with children in his church choir group, his early volunteer experiences particularly in dental school, and due to his desire to be of service to the community.
“Dentistry is my way to help people, to help society. I thoroughly enjoy it. My orthodontist teacher—I had braces in dental school—he connected me to the group he belonged to, the Monarch Dental group. When I went off to do my training, I kind of knew I had somewhere to go, after. Like I say, it was in the stars for me to go into this practice,” he said.
Through his private practice, Monarch Pediatric Dental Centre in Burnaby, Port Moody and Surrey, BC, he and three other co-owner colleagues, along with 50 staff spread over 3 branches, help make the community a better place.
Of course, the business side to owning a private practice enables Mark to meet his obligations, as well. With a chuckle bordering on laughter, he shared that: “Private practice is one of my ways to pay my bills.”
“Primarily, it is to help people hands on. I wanted to employ my skills and experience in real life, one-to-one. Secondarily, it helps me with my commitments to my needs, personally, professionally, financially” he explained.
Ever the learner
In his free time, Mark enjoys a variety of hobbies. But the one thing that is a constant is his passion for learning.
“I love singing and playing music, scuba diving, running, reading, trying to learn something new again. I’m always a learner, that’s just me: a lifelong learner. I love astronomy and photography, as well. Hanging out with good friends, travelling,” he revealed.
Mark’s interests and off-work leisure activities enable him to establish a work-life balance; something which he admits is important and not the easiest thing to do.
“You need to know how to manage your own personal and familial matters. I experienced health challenges because of all the stresses; you need to slow down a bit for yourself and the people who deserve it most.”
Reach for the stars
He encourages those in pursuit of their dreams to keep following these dreams, and to shoot for the stars.
“For any kind of successful career, follow your dream. A lot of successful individuals go and reach for the stars, and they somehow are taken care of. Shoot for the moon and the stars,” he advised.
He also acknowledges the crucial role parents play in the success of their children, with parental support being “key to an individual’s success.”
Mark said that: “Parents need to help their children remove the barriers; support and empower the dreams and interests of their children; expose them to a variety of opportunities to help them find their area of interest, their gift.”
For those wanting to go into dentistry, in specific, Mark stresses the importance of exposure to the practice, and advises hopefuls to observe and learn from their community dentist.
And of course, the question we’ve all been waiting for: As a child, was Mark afraid of the dentist?
“I don’t think so. I knew I had to go, and I just hunkered down and did it. And it wasn’t a bad experience,” he said.
And right there is one statement of which I, for one, am very, very envious.
Dr. Mark Casafrancisco interviewed by Atty. Melissa Remulla-Briones, PCI Editor-in-Chief
Audio files transcribed by Angie Duarte, PCI Writer on Staff
Article written by Angie Duarte
Photos courtesy of Dr. Mark Casafrancisco