"What made you you want to become a dentist?" I get asked this question a lot, mostly by my patients. I often think it's because they are nervous about their appointments and are looking to break the ice. However, it's a tough question for me answer in one or two sentences because the truth is I became a dentist for so many reasons. Short answer: I wanted to help people with a small but important part of their health. My long answer is too long, so here are my FAQs:
1. Did you always want to be a dentist? As a child, I toyed with the idea of becoming a dentist. When I was ten years-old, my sisters and I attended elementary school in Japan and we had to brush our teeth everyday after lunch. We even kept toothbrushes and rinse mugs in our cubbies. Our teeth were checked by a school dentist and oral care was a huge part of our curriculum. Students were even given tooth certificates for progress. I credit my parents for showing me the value of good oral care from a young age. (Read more about my year in Japan).
2. What did you study to become a dentist? This is where my road into dental medicine gets fun! As an undergrad at Princeton University, I majored in Public Policy and International affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School. I really enjoyed studying domestic and foreign policy. I had a great time learning about the intricacies of healthcare systems, urban education reform and consolidating new democracies. I even wrote my senior thesis on music piracy on the cusp of a digital millennium and after college I landed a super cool job at MTV in New York City!
Like most new college grads, I did a lot of soul searching during my first few years out of school. In 2001, I decided to change gears completely and pursue my interest in healthcare. I initially considered becoming a nutritionist and I found so many interesting articles on the connections between nutrition and oral health. I also found some devastating facts about rampant childhood decay and the need for more oral care providers.
In a conversation with my oral surgeon about my own wisdom teeth, he encouraged me to apply to dental school. The next year, while completing my premedical studies, I worked along side head and neck specialists and researched the relationship between smell and taste functions and neurological diseases. It was quite a lot of new and fascinating information.
Dental school is a four-year degree program consisting of curriculum in oral health sciences and clinical care. In addition to anatomy, physiology and other health sciences, dentists learn many technical skills. We are essentially like engineers in the mouth.
4. Where did you go to Dental School? I received my doctorate in dental medicine from the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine in my hometown of Philadelphia, PA. One of the greatest things about studying at a large research institution like Penn is working with such a diverse patient pool and this is still one of the aspects that I really enjoy about clinical dentistry.
5. What does a dentist do? Dentists diagnose, treat and prevent dental disease. In addition to cavities and root canals, dentists also have the ability to provide smile makeovers, which can be life changing.
6. What's my favorite thing about dental medicine? I really enjoy educating families about maintaining good oral health. A healthy smile is a small but important factor in quality of life and it's an area of health that you can actually manage easily with good habits like brushing, flossing, and rinsing.
7. What's my least favorite thing? Most patients are fearful of the dentist or know someone who had a frightful experience. The association between the dentist and pain is a tough one to hurdle. However, that comes with the duty of treating a patient to free him from a painful dental infection.
There are so many reasons that I chose dentistry and there are countless rewards that come from its practice. It is also a profession that remains in high demand because even with all the technological innovations in our modern world, dentists are still needed to solve mysteries of the mouth. In a time of economic uncertainty, the job market remains stable for this noble and family friendly profession. Have you considered a career in the field of dental medicine?