Dentists are not renowned for bringing joy into the world. But Dr Scott Park does his bit and readily admits the people of Canberra are his inspiration.
“We have a very small but strong cohesive community here,” Scott says. “I’ve experienced that in the 13 years I’ve lived in Canberra.”
With a friendly nature, his commitment to caring has seen him volunteer overseas to treat children badly in need of dental care.
Now 40, Scott moved to Australia from South Korea as an 18-year-old who couldn’t speak English. Today, he lectures dental students, writes for textbooks and runs Preventive Dentistry in Braddon.
He believes dentistry is “a very noble profession”.
“I feel privileged,” he says. “For someone to trust me to go near their mouth, the most sensitive part of your body, that’s special.”
It wasn’t easy for Scott to leave his home and friends in Korea and move to a new country where he didn’t know the language, the customs or the people. For years he blamed his mother. Now, with three daughters of his own, he better understands what it is to be a parent.
“She later told me of the hardship and difficulties she faced as a single mum at the time. My father passed away in a car accident when I was 12. He went out one day and didn’t come back. It was difficult for my mum to raise us over there.”
Many details of his overseas voluntary work in pre-COVID times have to remain under wraps to ensure the project isn’t jeopardised, but he carries many emotional memories from the visits.
In just a few days he treated hundreds of children, far more than expected. With no dental chair, the patients sat on a bare stool while Scott, on his knees, treated them from behind. When limited supplies ran out, he gave children the option of extractions without numbing the teeth.
“Funnily enough, none of them cried. I had to be really quick and pray the teeth didn’t break.”
He describes the experience as “a heartbreak”.
He packed extra dental supplies in his luggage for his next visit, including 600 needles. He says it’s a miracle he got through security without problems.
He also treated adults living with agonising abscesses and broken roots – where the teeth have disintegrated but the roots remain.
“You don’t see that often in Canberra. We’re very blessed here. I would suggest everyone do voluntary work. You learn to cherish what you have.”
One of Scott’s special interests is sleep dentistry. He first learnt to treat his own snoring issue by adopting a new mouth splint – and it’s gone from there.
“It’s a most fulfilling part of dentistry. When people sleep better, you can see the difference in their lives.”
Scott’s also committed to helping the less fortunate in Canberra.
He’s amazed by the support of patients at the Vinnies CEO Sleepout, an event where for the last three years he’s swapped his bed for sleeping on the airport tarmac, his own driveway and the arboretum.
Initially hesitant, in the end he just “went for it”.
“It was the best thing I ever did. Our patients have been generous beyond belief. Our practice has raised $80,000 for the cause and my sponsors have given $38,000 over three years.”
Scott also saw the generosity of the Canberra community when faced with a personal tragedy.
“Last year one of my family friends, a strong swimmer, was swept out to sea. He was a father of two, with baby number three expected within days.”
Scott drove to the coast and searched long and hard for his friend – but without success. To help the grieving family, he set up a Go Fund Me account which raised more than $50,000.
“Support flooded in from the Canberra and Korean communities. It was tragic but the baby was born healthy and the family is doing well.”
Scott spends as much time as possible with his family, despite working six days a week. His voice softens whenever he mentions his wife Grace and their three daughters – which is often.
“My girls make me a better man, that’s all I’m going to say. I have to act out the values I want them to learn. I can’t teach them to be honest, loving and helping others if I don’t do it.”
While Scott may be inspired by his community, it’s fair to say Canberra finds great inspiration in him as well.