Art and Music Meet Dentistry

Bringing Music into Dentistry

In 2019, I started providing music therapy to patients in the RI Hospital Cancer Center. Through my guzheng, I realized the power of music as a common language to connect us, heal us, bring out stories and memories, soothe our fears. 

I wanted to bring music therapy into the dental field. Dental fear (or dental anxiety) affects approximately 36% of the population, especially prevalent in trauma victims or survivors of domestic violence, and is a reason why millions of Americans avoid the dentist. Yet delaying dental care results in the progression of dental disease that requires more invasive and painful treatments, furthering the cycle of dental trauma.

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RI Hospital Healing Through Harmony Volunteer

Many suffering severe dental fear or anxiety require nitrous oxide or general anesthesia in order to undergo a procedure. I believed music could function as a low cost alternative, so I implemented music therapy at the Dental Associates of Rhode Island, an office I had been working at as a Practice Coordinator/Dental Assistant.

"Thursday Tunes" on the Guzheng

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Every Thursday, at the beginning and end of the hour, I played the guzheng 古筝, the 21-stringed Chinese harp, as patients entered the waiting rooms, incorporating elements of music therapy such as receptive intervention, re-creation, improvisation, and composition.⁣⁣ 

Wireless Headphones, Customizable Playlists

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I set up an office Spotify account and wireless bluetooth noise-canceling headphones for each operating room. Rather than listening to a preset music playlist, patients had could select any songs they wanted through Spotify, or connect their own phone to the bluetooth headphones.

Bringing Art Into Dentistry

One day while dental assisting, I met a young girl who needed a root canal. Since she couldn’t understand English, I drew out the root canal procedure for her. I broke down the procedure into 4 simple steps, using arrows, check marks or x-marks, and happy/sad faces to convey meaning.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I believe a drawing can be worth a million. You can illustrate processes through time, distill complex pictures into simple components, combine elements while highlighting the most important parts. You can communicate across language barriers to increase health literacy and decrease dental anxiety, particularly for stigmatized procedures like root canals.

It’s not always convenient to draw the full process of a root canal. When I searched online for short video animations, I discovered that these animations were all longer than 1 minute or were too hyperrealistic. Thus, I decided to create my own animation, distilled down into a simple digestible form—all under 30 seconds. This video is the first of my series of hand-drawn dental education animations, focused on being easy to visualize and understand even without sound.

 

After making this video, I also became inspired to create short educational infographics on other dental topics (cavities, plaque, gum disease, fillings, pregnancy) for patients and their families at the Dental Associates of Rhode Island, trying to distill dental education into short bite-sized pieces of information. Below is a sneak peek, but check out my "Infographics" page to see the whole repertoire! 

Dental Artwork

I also use artwork as a channel to discuss and highlight oral health and public health concepts.

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Records of Our Oral Ecosystem

The tooth is a birth certificate. Similar to tree rings, striations in our enamel carry the topography of the changes and transitions....

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Reproductive Justice and Oral Health

Access to dental care is about reproductive health and birth equity. Hormonal changes greatly increase risk of gum disease, and nearly 60-75% of pregnant people have gum disease.....

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The Iceberg of Our Oral Health

Oral health is like an iceberg. We see teeth as the visible “tip” of the iceberg, but we often don’t see the multidimensional “branches” required to....

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My Most Recent Hand-drawn Art and Video Animation:

My Human - A Story of Oral Health Inequity

A story of told from the perspective of a tooth who observes its human, Smiles, a young girl with a beautiful smile. Smiles suffers from tooth decay, which gets worsened over COVID-19 and eventually leads to infection and an abscess that takes her to the emergency room, with only one option: to extract the tooth.

More About Me!

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About me as an NHSC Scholar, TedX Speaker, Advocacy Award Recipient

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Sold by Brown University Bookstore and featured on Columbia's public health website

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Featured on Columbia and Harvard ASDA pages, covering patient education

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Music Compositions

Performed 5 times in Carnegie Hall, 2 times in the Metropolitan Museum, 2 times in McCarter Theatre

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Harvard Global Health Starter Kit co-author, 2nd author of bottle feeding case study

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My Asian Identity

Reflections on what it means to be Asian American and my struggles with my identity

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