A Day in the Life of an NHL Dentist
- Posted on: Jul 1 2014
Even if you don’t find NHL hockey entertaining during the regular season, few can deny the exhilaration of the Stanley Cup playoffs. This year’s playoffs were once again riveting. The Los Angeles Kings won the cup two years ago. Last year, the defending champs fell to the eventual 2013 champions—the Chicago Blackhawks. This year, the Kings surged back, winning back-to-back-to-back playoff series that went to a full seven games. In the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals, they handily defeated the New York Rangers 4-1 in the final best of seven.
The Los Angeles Kings’ journey is a magical one. But hockey teams are made up of more than just the players. There are the coaches, the managers, the trainers, physicians, and physical therapists who all contribute to the team’s success. And, of course, the team dentist.
NHL Dentist: Behind the Scenes
Dr. Ken Ochi is the team dentist for the Kings. This past season was his first year as an NHL team dentist. He knew that he’d encounter some odd, maybe even horrific, injuries while serving in such a role. But he didn’t know how early in the season he’d face his first real, NHL facial injury—or what has been called a “Welcome to the NHL” moment.
In the Kings’ home opener last October, New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan slammed into Kings center Anze Kopitar. After the collision, Callahan skated off holding his mouth. Ochi went to the medical room to examine Callahan. At first, the injury—though a deep laceration—was pretty straightforward. Ochi cleaned out the wound, but then noticed something black stuck in Callahan’s jawbone. The material was hard, yet too soft and spongy to be bone. Then another team doctor noticed it and casually remarked, in an obvious sign of familiarity, “I think that’s stick.”
Always on Call
After discovering that the black piece stuck in the jaw was pieces of a stick, Ochi spent the remainder of the second period picking out pieces of composite from Callahan’s gums and jaw. With that and some stitches, Ochi sent Callahan back out to play the final 20 minutes of the game.
Callahan incurred injuries directly to his gums and jaw. Dr. Ochi, however, is hardly limited to just this region when it comes to hockey injuries. As an NHL team dentist, Ochi is on call for every game. He takes care of the usual suspects like broken teeth. He also treats most, if not all, injuries above the neck. Everything from simple lacerations to broken skull bones. Working alongside internists and orthopedists, the team dentist is an invaluable part of the medical machine. Though the medical workload is spread over a team of doctors, the pressure is always high. Whether it’s stitching players without anesthesia or sending impatient—yet vitally needed—players quickly back into the game, the life of an NHL team dentist offers a side of dentistry that’s quite out of the ordinary.
Dr. Hugh Flax has a passion for practicing dentistry. He takes great pleasure in changing patients’ lives through their smiles. He received his degree in dentistry at Emory University and began Flax Dental in 1987. Outside the office, Dr. Flax loves music, New Orleans, traveling and more music. Follow Flax Dental on Twitter and Facebook.