By Kai Curry
Northwest Asian Weekly
Dr. Carla Yamashiro, DDS, NMD, IBDM, of Ecologic Dentistry in Bonney Lake takes a natural and holistic approach to dental practice.
Voted Seattle Met Top Dentist in 2020, Yamashiro knew she wanted to be a dentist from an early age, yet took a circuitous route when those around her didn’t understand what she was meant for—but she did. Now, she helps clients who drive from miles away just to be able to take advantage of her innovative and caring services.
Yamashiro grew up in Hilo, Hawai’i, and now lives in Seattle. She remembers her childhood dentist who did not use anesthetic.
“He’d say, ‘steady now,’ and start drilling. It was torturous!” This introduction to dentistry fueled Yamashiro to look for a different and better approach. Like many, she was familiar with the “old way” of making fillings.
“When I heard the mercury amalgam being mixed in a machine called ‘the wiggle bug,’ I felt relieved because I knew the torture was soon to end.” And it was at that moment of pressing the mercury into her tooth that Yamashiro knew she wanted to be a dentist.
“It’s ironic that the act of placing mercury amalgam into teeth was the moment I wanted to be a dentist. And today, I am certified to safely remove it.”
At Ecologic Dentistry, their forward-thinking methodology is backed by scientific research and a desire to do right by their clients. They provide routine dental care—cleanings, x-rays, and the like—in the safest way possible, and also offer ground-breaking treatments that include removal of poisonous mercury fillings (and replacing them with a safer alternative) and jaw realignment. The latter can remedy a variety of ailments from tooth grinding and snoring to overbite/underbite.
“We don’t just have a mouth with teeth to be drilled and filled,” said Yamashiro. “We need to have an understanding that what we do and don’t do to our teeth affects our entire body and vice versa. When patients come to see me, my job isn’t to determine what we need to drill and fill. Rather, my job is to ask ‘why’ so that I can try to understand the root cause of your issue. Unless we know ‘why,’ then we are merely placing bandages on what might be a much deeper wound.”
Yamashiro’s high school counselor steered her away from her dream.
“She looked at my file and, without uttering a single word of advice, handed me a dental hygiene pamphlet. I took that to mean that I didn’t have what it took to be a dentist. Thus began my long-detoured journey.”
She went into secondary music education at the University of Hawai’i. But soon after, got back on track by working at a dental laboratory and as a dental assistant.
“I basically had to start all over.” She completed dental school, and also took further education in Integrative Biological Dental Medicine and Naturopathic Medicine, which she has been practicing since 2008.
“There were those along the way who frowned upon the length of my journey, but the way I looked at it, I was going to be whatever age I would be and be a dentist vs. be that age and not be one.”
While attending dental school, Yamashiro visited an aunt in Tacoma, and decided to move here.
“I love Seattle…I say, ‘I love Seattle’ out loud to myself as I’m out and about exploring Seattle’s parks, urban walks, and hikes with my rescue dog, Harry-san…I think we live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, surrounded by mountains and water. And Seattle has the best foods!”
Yamashiro is often in the Chinatown-International District. You might see her playing taiko.
“Around eight years ago, I was having a sushi lunch in Seattle. Playing on their screen were taiko drummers! Watching taiko performers made me want to learn how to play.” She joined Seattle Kokon Taiko, who have started performing live again after COVID-19 lockdowns.
“We couldn’t be happier to be performing again for our community.” This passion for learning informs everything Yamashiro does, be it dentistry or playing taiko, flamenco guitar, or ukulele.
“My dad taught himself how to play the ukulele. It was rare for him to be without it. He took it with him everywhere…Once, as he played his ukulele, he said to me, ‘If you know how to play, you’ll never feel lonely.’” Living far from her family, Yamashiro takes this to heart.
People wonder how she could have traded Hilo for Seattle, yet she feels at home here.
“Hilo is the rainy side of the Big Island, where rain clouds hover over Hilo, unable to get over the mountain. It rains way more in Hilo than it does in Seattle.”
She also knows that, while they might not have understood at first her passion for dentistry or her relocation to the Mainland, her family backs her.
“I have my parents to thank for their sacrifices and for giving me the support to pursue whatever it was that I wanted…When your parents provide you with a safety net, you feel like you can do anything in the world because if you fail, you can always come home.”
As Yamashiro recalls, growing up, they didn’t have much but her parents, who have now passed, “had the biggest hearts.” Her dad’s parents were from Okinawa, and her mom’s father was from Japan, while her mom’s mother was born in Hawai’i. Yamashiro is the youngest of three older sisters who live in Hilo.
“My mom was the best cook. Our favorite was her fried chicken. I remember we could each have only two chicken wings. We were sure to not miss a piece and ate our share to the bone!”
This strong family background has made Yamashiro’s practice something like a family, too. When you walk in, you will be greeted cheerfully by staff, and by Yamashiro’s rescue dog, Harry, who stays in her office and behind reception. There will be loyal clients in the lobby and the reassuring rhythm of professionals at work in clean procedure rooms.
“I always wanted a holistic dentist,” said patient Michelle Mui. “Dr. Y provides non-toxic treatments for dental procedures. She is very patient and detail-oriented. I travel over 28 miles to see Dr. Y…I felt that Dr. Y really listens to me and does her best to meet my needs.”
“There’s nothing to lose by going for what calls to you, no matter what age,” said Yamashiro.
Ecologic Dentistry—The Natural Choice is open three days a week in Bonney Lake.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.