Boise dentist heads to Dominican Republic to donate care


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Lake Harbor Dental has a history of helping disadvantaged people who need dental care. This month, Dr. Eric Ballou is heading to the Dominican Republic, where he will spend a week providing basic dental care to people there. He will be leaving Jan. 16 and returning Jan. 24.

In Boise, Dr. Ballou has also donated his services in Boise to help low-income people, particularly refugees from Afghanistan, Burma, Iran, Serbia, Russia, Africa and Mexico. He also speaks fluent Spanish.

“Donating care is an important obligation for health care professionals and I’ve wanted to do this for a while,” said Ballou. “This will be a great way to use my skills to help people who don’t have much access to good dental care.”

The work will be a switch for Ballou. At Lake Harbor, he does computer-assisted imagery, same-day crowns, advanced implants, Invisalign and the cutting-edge of modern dental care. In the Dominican Republic, he’ll be doing the basics like extractions, fillings, root canals and stainless steel crowns. He’s bringing most of the dental supplies he will need.

Dr. Ballou is traveling a group of dentists also associated with the G3 Foundation. The foundation, started in 2004, provides dental care and basic medical services to areas of the world where access to this care is limited or unavailable.  The foundation has provided free services to people in the United States, Africa, the Dominican Republic, Bulgaria, Haiti, and Samoa. More than 20 trips have been successfully completed to date. Trips to the Dominican Republic have taken place every year since 2000.  Over that period of time, over 6,500 people have been provided with care. In May, the G3 Foundation held a fundraiser golf tournament in Boise.

Basic precautions keep teeth safe during Halloween


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Dentists seem to have a love-hate relationship with Halloween. We can just about see an uptick in cavities in the months following it, which is good for business. On the other hand, we want to promote good oral health and preventative care and we’d rather not see people deal with the pain and expense of getting cavities filled. We already have enough to keep us busy, as around a third of children at the ages of 5 and 12 have visible signs of tooth decay. It’s not actually the sugar that causes problems; rather, it feeds bacteria, which in turn produce large amounts of tooth-destroying acids.

The good news is, it is possible to safely indulge for Halloween. According to, there are some basic measures parents can take to help reduce tooth damage – either during Halloween, or any time.

* It is not just the amount of sweets consumed that causes tooth decay – it is how often they are eaten. It is better to eat a lot of sweets all at once, rather than a smaller amount throughout the day.

* Every time children eat or drink anything sugary, their teeth are under attack for up to one hour. It’s better to let them have their fill all at once, then take the sweets away until the next session.

* After the kids have had their fill of sweets for the day, immediately have them rinse, brush and floss.

* Salivation is good. More saliva washes away sugar and acids. Sugar-free gum and drinking water will help reduce and/or wash away acids. Provide water with their candy.

* Alkaline foods like cheese can help to neutralize the build-up of acid in children’s mouths.

* Fruit snacks are not really fruity. They are basically candy that are high in sugar and are not necessarily a healthier option for children’s teeth.

Sugar-free gum is actually beneficial for teeth, as it promotes salivation, wipes off the surfaces of teeth and dislodges food particles. If you wanted to provide a tooth-friendly treat, sugarless gum would work well.

After hours dental problem? We can help!



Most dental offices have normal business hours, but sometimes emergencies happen after hours or on weekends. Rest assured that if you have a dental emergency, you can be seen right away.

Lake Harbor is part of a group of rotating on-call dentists for nights and weekends. When you call Lake Harbor after hours, you’ll receive an on-call service number and one of about 10 dentists will call you back immediately and arrange for care

Typical emergency calls include tooth aches, root canals and extractions. Some dentists still make temporary crowns which occasionally need fixing, or the teeth drift and the laboratory-made crown that comes in a week or two later won’t fit. A lot are sports-related cosmetic emergencies where a front tooth breaks or a crown comes off. Very few of these cases can be handled on the phone alone but every once in a while a patient just needs reassurance that a chip can wait a day and their dentist will fix it on Monday.

Remember, if you have an after-hours dental emergency give us a call and we may be able to help. 853-4687

Training in medical emergencies necessary for modern dental office


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Believe it or not, it’s not unheard of for someone to suffer a heart attack, stroke or fainting spell while in the dentist’s office. I’ve had two patients faint over the years and one woman had a symptoms of a stroke. In 2 of the 3 cases, I hadn’t even started any dental work but the medical emergency training was possibly life saving, especially for the stroke patient.

We ask patients about existing health problems, but sometimes people don’t know that they have high blood pressure or other systemic diseases and we are the first to see the signs. It’s understandable; people tend to go to their dentist more often than they go to their physician. The stress of dental work, getting teeth extracted or even being in a dental chair is enough to trigger a medical emergency in some people. Dentists, many times, are the first medical professionals to discover a person’s previously-unknown illnesses, such as high blood pressure or heart disease.

Lake Harbor is prepared

To better prepare for these incidents, I recently attended a medical emergency course sponsored by the Academy of General Dentistry. Dan Becker, the speaker, has written and has taught extensively on medical emergencies and sedation.

At Lake Harbor Dental, we have trained extensively to know when someone is having a medical emergency and how to do basic life support, if needed, until paramedics arrive. Actually we re-certify each year with a EMT in our office. He brings dummies and we practice scenarios in our dental chairs, waiting room, and even bathroom. We also train on life saving medications that may be indicated and update them each year.

We routinely check a patient’s blood pressure before major dental work. If it’s outside of safe boundaries, we may not do some procedures, like tooth extraction, until the patient sees a physician.

Of course, the vast majority of patients who see us never have any problems like this. It’s good to know, however, that if a medical emergency does appear, patients at Lake Harbor Dental are in good hands.

Dentists moving away from mercury amalgam fillings



We came across a very interesting story in the Chicago Tribune about the dental industry moving away from amalgam fillings. The main concern is that mercury is a serious pollutant when it returns to the environment. Other experts, however, believe the mercury in the fillings can make some people ill.

A comparison between silver/mercury amalgam fillings and composite fillings.

At LakeHarbor Dental, we don’t use mercury fillings, mainly because of looks – we think they are unsightly compared to composites, which mimic the natural color of teeth. Also, you have to remove excess tooth to put in amalgam fillings, which weakens the tooth and puts it at greater risk of cracking and breaking. Amalgam fillings are certainly effective and safe but there are better alternatives now.


Acid damage a serious risk to teeth


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In our dental practice, we occasionally see people with acid damage to their teeth. Acid is extremely harmful to teeth, dissolving the enamel, and it’s worth considering how to prevent it. Dr. Eric Ballou recently completed some training on acid damage and oral health at the Egyptian Theatre as part of the Idaho Southwest Dental Society SWIDS midwinter mtg.

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Severe acid damaged to teeth caused by bulimia. Not all of the teeth could be saved.

Popular beverages are very high in acid, with energy drinks like Monster and RockStar being the worst. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade, are right after energy drinks. Next on the list is lemonade and then lastly sodas like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. Sugar soda can cause cavities easier but even diet sodas provide an acidic environment for bacteria to thrive.

People carry around their own acid – hydrochloric acid, which is very potent. Fortunately, your stomach is protected against stomach acid, but your mouth isn’t. We have seen bulimics destroy their teeth with repeated vomiting. One patient of ours would brush her teeth immediately after purging, which aggravated the problem by driving the acid into the teeth and gums.  For such extreme cases, the natural tooth is beyond repair and we must resort to crowns and artificial teeth.

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Bulimia acid damage. We put crowns on most of the teeth but had to do an implant and a bridge as part of the restoration.

Another common problem is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), where stomach contents (food or liquid) leak from the stomach into the esophagus and into the mouth. GERD has a variety of causes and symptoms but in terms of dental health, it frequently causes stomach acid to leak into the mouth at night, where it may spend hours damaging teeth.

Symptoms of acid damage include pitting in the enamel, excessive wear, or tooth erosion around fillings. Dentists and hygienists are trained to look for acid erosion during routine cleanings and examinations. If  you tend to vomit frequently, for whatever reasons, you are at risk for many health problems, including tooth damage.

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Acid damaged gum tissue as well as teeth.

Even if you don’t have problems with stomach acid, you should limit your intake of strongly acidic foods like energy drinks. If you do drink something acidic, rinse your mouth out with water as soon as possible afterward. Avoid the acids like sucking on lemons and also realize that vitamin C tablets and lozenges are very erosive and damaging to enamel.   As with sugary foods, if you’re going to eat them, it’s better to do it in one sitting and get it over with, rather than sip continuously throughout the day.

Boise dentist inspires us all with career spanning 50 years


What a great story in the Idaho Statesman about Hal Pickett, a Boise dentist who has been practicing for 50 years. Even as a modern dental practice has computerized, same-day tooth replacement and high-tech imaging, our industry very much depends on the timeless

At age 86, Pickett is one of the oldest health care professionals in the state. He also is one of six prosthodontists working in Idaho. A prosthodontist is a dentist who specializes in fixing and replacing teeth and the structures around them.

He’s weathered major changes in the health care industry and in his specialty, but he doesn’t plan to quit.

“Retire sounds too much like expire,” he said. “I enjoy the work, and I’ve got to have something to do.”

Nervous about your dental visit? Consider sedation.



Dental anxiety is a serious issue and unfortunately keeps some people from receiving necessary care, which makes their dental problems worse because of lack of care and their visits become all the more difficult.

It’s natural for people to be uncomfortable in a dental office and we do various things to reduce anxiety, such as taking breaks, simply asking our patients how they are doing, and listening to their responses.

However, for some people, sedation dentistry is the alternative. One type is breathing a mixture of nitrous oxide, which is an analgesic (non-narcotic) that is effective for moderate anxiety. For severe dental anxiety, Lake Harbor Dental is able to provide intravenous sedation.

About once a week, someone will come in and say they suffer from extreme dental anxiety, enough to where they request intravenous sedation. Most often, this is appropriate for dental surgery or widsom teeth removal, but some people might need it for a simple cleaning. The drugs put the patient in a semi-conscious state and we monitor their breathing, heart rate and blood oxygen levels during the procedure. Because of the level of sedation, patients must bring someone with them who can drive them home.

Not many offices provide this level of sedation because of the level of training necessary. Dr. Peterson is certified to perform this service and he must recertify annually. So, if you or someone you know needs dental care but are just too stressed out, LakeHarbor Dental can help.

Halloween and dental health

Halloween has a bad reputation when it comes to dental health and it’s for good reason. Eating large amount of refined sugar is just bad for your teeth. However, by following these tips from the American Dental Association, you should be able to protect your teeth.

Halloween is around the corner, which for most children means bags of free candy and a chance to build up the stockpile of sweets for the winter. Being one of the most fun times of the year for families, Halloween can also present parents with a variety of health and safety challenges.

  1. Consume Halloween candy and other sugary foods with meals.
    Saliva production increases during meals and helps neutralize acids produced by bacteria in your mouth and helps rinse away food particles.
  2. Avoid hard candy and other sweets that stay in your mouth for a long time.
    Besides how often you snack, the length of time food is in your mouth plays a role in tooth decay. Unless it is a sugar-free product, candies that stay in the mouth for a long period of time subject teeth to prolonged acid attack, increasing the risk for tooth decay.
  3. Avoid sticky candies that cling to your teeth.
    The stickier candies, like taffy and gummy bears, take longer to get washed away by saliva, increasing the risk for tooth decay.
  4. Drink more water.
    Consuming optimally fluoridated water can help prevent tooth decay. If you choose bottled water, check the label for the fluoride content.
  5. Maintain a healthy diet and make sure the meals you eat are nutritious.
    Your body is like a complex machine. The foods you choose as fuel and how often you “fill up” affect your general health and that of your teeth and gums.
  6. Avoid beverages with added sugar such as soda, sports drinks or flavored waters.
    When teeth come in frequent contact with beverages that contain sugar, the risk of tooth decay is increased.
  7. Chew gum that has the ADA Seal.
    Chewing sugarless gum for 20 minutes after meals has been shown to reduce tooth decay, because increased saliva flow helps wash out food and neutralize the acid produced by dental plaque bacteria.
  8. Brush your teeth twice a day with an ADA-accepted fluoride toothpaste.
    Replace your toothbrush every three or four months, or sooner if the bristles are frayed. A worn toothbrush won’t do a good job of cleaning your teeth.
  9. Clean between teeth daily with floss or an interdental cleaner.
    Decay-causing bacteria still linger between teeth where toothbrush bristles can’t reach. Flossing helps remove plaque and food particles from between the teeth and under the gum line.
  10. Visit an ADA-member dentist for more information on maintaining your oral health.

Trying out Invisalign for myself

As a dentist, one of my duties is to keep up on the latest technology and techniques. I have been using Invisalign on patients for several years now, as it’s a great alternative to traditional braces, and I have recently finished using Invisalign on myself. Whenever practical and applicable, I think dentists should use the same products on themselves as their patients.

When I was a teenager, I wore braces for a couple of years.  When I finished I didn’t understand the importance of wearing a retainer and I honestly hardly used it at all until it was too late. I had my wisdom teeth extracted soon after braces and I had all of my permanent teeth, so I thought my bite would then be permanent. I was wrong. Teeth continue to shift and move throughout life with most people and I was no exception.

In my twenties, I started to work as a dental assistant and as I helped with teeth cleanings I noticed a common occurrence. Lower crowded teeth usually had more build up and were harder to maintain both with home care and in routine dental hygiene visits. I wanted to keep and maintain my teeth for life, so I thought I’d better address my then re-crowded crooked teeth. I went to an orthodontist that was the son of the orthodontist I had as a teen and asked what he could do.  We decided to correct the crowding with ceramic brackets and a traditional braces system. It worked effectively but it was even less comfortable than I remembered as a teen.  Food always got stuck in the brackets and flossing was a real pain, but my teeth straightened out and that made it worth it to me. I then went to dental school for 4 years and wore my retainer faithfully.

In dental school I learned about invisalign and received the necessary training to become a provider of the product and system. I started my first case out of school on our receptionist here in Boise. It was a huge success and she loves her new straight smile.  I then continued to treat crooked teeth and malocclusion on many many patients.

However, I noticed my own teeth continued to shift a bit, especially as I clenched my teeth at night. To correct this movement of my teeth, I decided to use Invisalign on myself. Because I had relatively little movement, my treatment was brief, about three months, while the average is about a year.

The results have been as good for me as they have been for all my other patients. I can honestly say I like Invisalign much more than traditional braces. At night, I continue to wear the Invisalign trays to keep my teeth straight and to prevent clenching and wear.

As someone who has gone through Invisalign himself, I can honestly say I like them much more than braces. Traditional braces are difficult to keep clean and flossing is particularly challenging.  Braces are a lot more noticeable and I remember how they really bothered my cheeks and lips. Invisalign is has its limits of course and while braces are still necessary in many cases, I think anyone is going to be better served whenever Invisalign is appropriate.


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