Mark Burhenne, DDS, knows that the mouth is the gateway to health in the rest of the body. He is the author of the #1 best seller, The 8-Hour Sleep Paradox, and is a practicing sleep medicine dentist in Sunnyvale, California. Dr. Burhenne has been practicing dentistry in the greater San Francisco area for over 30 years. Learn more about his practice here.
He is a TEDx speaker, and his advice regularly appears on media outlets like CNN, CBS, Yahoo! Health, the Huffington Post, Prevention, The Washington Post, and Men’s Health.
He received his degree from the Dugoni School of Dentistry in San Francisco and is a member of the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine. Dr. Burhenne (affectionately dubbed “Dr. B” by patients and friends) is passionate about helping people understand the connection between oral and overall health. He also spends a lot of time educating patients and readers about the importance of healthy sleep.
Want to know more about Dr. Burhenne and Ask the Dentist co-founder, his daughter, Catharine? Find out below.
If you had told me that I was going to get fired from my first job out of dental school, I wouldn’t have believed you.
My first job out of dental school was with a dental chain which I won’t name, for reasons that will become clear. The practice was run by a business person—not a medical professional, and certainly not a dentist.
I quickly learned that this clinic was in the business of maximizing the billing of insurance companies, not in helping people.
What did that mean for a young dentist like me, who’d just signed up for the job?
It meant doing as much dentistry as possible, as quickly as possible—regardless of whether those teeth were healthy enough to be restored.
You don’t remodel the kitchen if there’s dry rot in the floorboards, I like to say. But for many of these chain dental clinics, profits come first, and teaching a patient how to reverse their gum disease (an essential first step before ANY work is done) was, in their eyes, turning away a paying customer. Instead, the clinic wanted me to bill for as much as possible—skipping ahead past the gum disease and cavities and straight to the big ticket items: veneers, whitening, etc.
To all of this, I flat out refused.
Not directly to management, of course. I simply carried on treating my patients how I thought best. I taught them how to prevent and reverse their cavities and their gum disease. For patients who wanted a quick fix—essentially, a kitchen remodel on top of rotting floorboards, I explained how their investment would all be for naught if the teeth weren’t healthy enough to “hold” the restorations.
It’s much more meaningful to me if we can save a tooth than replace it.
Turns out billing to educate a patient how to prevent disease is far less profitable than billing to restore diseased teeth. (Doesn’t that explain every problem with modern medicine today?!) I found every loophole I possibly could for my patients.
It worked—for a while anyway. I remained undetected by management for a whopping total of nine months. By month 10, I was caught and I was promptly fired.
Less than a year out of dental school, and with this harrowing experience under my belt, I was no longer just a dentist eager to serve. I now had street smarts, and I knew that I would dedicate my career not just to serving my patients, but to serving them despite our healthcare system.
From that moment on, my job was not just to do great dentistry, but to educate and empower my patients.
I was empowered myself, because I had learned that truth about dentistry—a truth that no one had taught me in dental school.
In dental school you are focused solely on dental health, but as soon as you spend one day in real-world, clinical practice, you learn that patients with poor dental health have a host of other systemic, clinical symptoms.
Your gut health, brain health, and even sleep quality are intimately tied to the health of your teeth and gums, and one cannot be improved without addressing the other.
In short, dental health cannot be treated in a vacuum.
My training was to treat gum disease and fill cavities, but I couldn’t act in good conscience to be an effective and ethical dentist without first learning all I could about how to both prevent and treat the root cause of these ailments and teach my patients how to do the same.
Why I started blogging
There’s this totally backwards notion out there that cavities are just a normal part of existence.
What if holes in other parts of your body were considered normal? What if you were bleeding not from your gums but from your hand?
The mouth is connected to everything else in your body. The oral microbiome is the headwaters to the gut microbiome.
In fact, the bacteria and entire environment inside the mouth are connected to the rest of your body so intimately that the state of your oral health can predict whether you’ll have heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes.
Even since leaving dental school, I’ve done a lot of research on oral and dental health.
Unfortunately, the more I learned, the more I realized that the studies in the dental and medical journals weren’t getting to the consumer fast enough.
I’ve hounded the dental schools to add courses on microbiome, sleep, and healing cavities but they always say that “the curriculum is full.”
Not to be deterred, I decided to take the information directly to the public myself, and that’s why I started this blog.
With this website, you’re going to learn how to heal your cavities, visit the dentist less often, have beautiful and functional teeth for your whole life, and optimize your mouth-body connection for better overall health.
It doesn’t matter what mistakes you’ve made in the past, or what you didn’t know about optimizing oral and dental health. Your mouth can heal itself, and it’s not too late to begin!
I invite you to poke around on the site, learn as much as you can, and share this information with your family and friends. But before you do, I’d love for you to download this list of Insider Secrets that you’ve never heard.
I unveil the truth about how often you really need to get dental x-rays and replace your toothbrush.
It’s the kind of information that can have a huge impact on your health, and it’s what I wish every person in the world had.
Hi! I’m Dr. B’s daughter, co-founder and all things behind-the-scenes here at Ask the Dentist.
I may not be a dentist, but I have been pushing my dad to share his knowledge with the world for many years now.
In 2010, I was babysitting a friend’s twins, and their mom asked whether she should use tap water in the babies’ formula. She was concerned about the fluoride in tap water, and because my dad has always been the go-to person for my friends’ and family’s dental questions, I put them in touch.
When I gave her my dad’s email address, she noticed that askthedentist.com was the domain. “What’s askthedentist.com?” she asked. “I went there but there’s no website.” I explained that he used to have a dental blog back in the 90s but once he became a dad, he got too busy. She got really excited and encouraged me to restart the website. “You have to do this!” she told me.
Inspired by her encouragement, I started learning how to make a website and got askthedentist.com back online.
It certainly helped that I was working for Google at the time. During my time there, the company was working on a product called Google Health, which was intended to make it possible for people to search their health records online.
Unfortunately, Google struggled to convince hospitals to make health records readily available. After enrolling only a handful of hospitals in the program, Google Health was shut down in 2013.
I had become frustrated by the glacial pace of the medical system and all the red tape encountered from simply attempting to empower patients across the country. But there was a silver lining:
Upon the demise of Google Health, the program’s product manager said, “We continue to be strong believers in the role information plays in healthcare and in improving the way people manage their health, and we’re always working to improve our search quality for the millions of users who come to Google every day to get answers to their health and wellness queries.”
Millions of users coming to Google every day to get answers to their health and wellness queries.
That was it!
People were taking their health into their own hands—by searching online. A revolution was happening in the way people were making choices and educating themselves.
They not only wanted to heal from illnesses, but they wanted to prevent them and, most importantly, optimize their health and live their best lives!
In that moment I understood the importance of helping my dad shed light on the countless oral and dental health topics that had been shrouded in mystery for much of the general public.
I saw the tremendous potential in developing Ask the Dentist as the go-to source for this information, and I doubled down on my efforts.
What You Can Expect From Me
People ask me all the time if I wanted to be a dentist growing up.
Funny enough, the answer is no—despite my fond memories of working in my dad’s practice organizing files and calling patients with appointment reminders as early as 8 years old.
My jam is behind-the-scenes—the writing, the business logistics, corralling my dad to ensure he shares his years of medical expertise in a way that readers can actually understand. In other words, I make sure Ask the Dentist is a medical jargon-free zone!
In the early days of the site, I’d come home from work and drag my dad out of his study so we could write together at the kitchen table.
I trusted him to guide the direction of the content and determine what people wanted to read, while I coded the website and served as a filter to make sure everything we published was layperson-friendly. This involved a lot of me telling my dad, “explain it like I’m five!” to which he’d reply, “how about I explain it like you’re twelve?” Well played, Dad!
Fast forward many years later, and in October 2017, my husband David and I had our first daughter…
And it took no time at all for me to get knocked on my ass. I had a disappointing breastfeeding journey, to say the least (ending at 4 months with two bouts of mastitis hospitalizations, one of which turned into a MRSA staph infection, breast aspiration, and I&D), and despite knowing the oral development implications of pacifiers, I was desperate for my daughter to adopt the binky so I—and my boobs—could have some much needed rest.
As the daughter of a dentist, I am acutely aware of all the things that impact oral health in infants—pacifiers, breastfeeding, sippy cups, baby bottle tooth decay…
But as a new mama, I’ve also learned that it’s impossible to get it all perfect for your baby, no matter how many sacrifices we make!
It’s that perspective that I bring to Ask the Dentist: I understand that information alone isn’t always enough because knowing what’s best doesn’t always jive with the realities of our modern lifestyles.
So as opposed to just empowering you with valuable information, my job is also to help you find realistic and practical ways to integrate this information into your daily life.
From teething to pacifier mouth, baby bottle tooth decay to breastfeeding, there is SO MUCH TO KNOW as a new mom concerned about your baby’s oral and dental health.
So for any mom who doesn’t have hundreds of hours to spend on research (and who does?!?!), I am currently writing my to-the-point FREE guide with exactly what you need to know and do, from infant to age three.
Sign up to get notified when it gets published.