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My Dental Calling: How Growing Up in Third World Countries Inspired Me

From getting braces twice to owning my own practice! What a journey it has been!

To many, dentistry is about cavities, root canals, braces, etc. And honestly, I used to think like that; a dentistry career was never on my radar. Academically, I always kept high marks and interest in my science courses. Outside of academics, I was focused on playing sports like softball and basketball, which required good hand eye coordination, and instruments like the piano and guitar. Thus, I only knew that I wanted to pursue a science related career that also allows me to use my hands. It was only when I was 13 after a bad dental experience that I realized the many technical and social aspects to dentistry that draws me to this career.

I first got braces at 11, while living in Indonesia. After they were removed, I started to experience jaw clicks and regular headaches and fevers-all symptoms of Temporo Mandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ). I discovered that my dentist was not professionally trained in braces or in any orthodontics and therefore rushed me into getting braces when my bone structure wasn’t ready yet, causing the TMJ. I underwent jaw therapy and another two-year orthodontic treatment to fix the TMJ and properly set my jaw and teeth in place. During

the treatment, I had to take routinely visits to a proper dentist in Singapore, requiring 10-hour round trips between Jakarta and Singapore. As a result, I spent a lot of time at the dentist, observing treatments, asking questions about procedures and interacting with my orthodontist. While it was stressful, the whole experience sparked my interest in dentistry.

I later took a summer internship at my dentist’s clinics in Singapore, shadowing dental professionals and clinic staff. From this, I gained insights into the types of treatments dentists do day-to-day and the personality traits that made a good dentist. And as I charted the path and the huge investment to realize this ambition, I reflected on the aspects of dentistry that drew me to this career.

First, my TMJ experience showed me that there are many patients in 3rd world countries suffering from dentists who – for money or from lack of proper education – prescribe the wrong treatments. This could be due to the lack of focus on both the countries’ educational and justice systems. As a citizen of the Philippines, a 3rd world country, I want to eventually open a community clinic there and make a positive impact on its society. I believe that my impact can be made by having the best education I can have and becoming the most well trained and qualified dentist I could be; one who will put a patient’s interests ahead of commercial gain.

Second, to be confident requires one to be content with one’s appearance, and a large part of being a dentist, particularly a cosmetic focused dentist, is helping people do just that. I gain so much fulfillment in my heart to know I can make a positive life changing impact in people's lives by improving their smile and oral health.

Finally, there is a social pact between a dentist, a young patient and his or her parents. My parents and I developed a deep long-term trust in my orthodontist, and it has showed me that good dentist-patient interaction is as important as the actual dental treatment. It reinforces the trust needed to continue to seek a dentist’s professional treatment when needed. Having lived in six countries and studied in six schools, I have

developed friendships and relationships with people from diverse cultures and backgrounds. Moving around to different countries can be taxing on a growing child, but it was these experiences that have helped me choose my career in dentistry and have made me the dentist I am today.

In a way, my TMJ ordeal was a blessing, opening the possibility of becoming a dentist and the type of dentist I want to become. I believe everything happens a reason and I truly believe my purpose in life is to be the best dentist I can be. My experiences and interaction with friends and other people have shaped me to become the person and dentist I am today.

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