I decided to make an artwork to answer the question
Watch my TedXTalk for a more personal version of the story
To me, dentistry is like painting an artwork or composing a guzheng 古筝 song: both require sensitivity of touch, creative visualization, and the ability to sculpt not just the intricate details but also the larger symphony of what our mouth’s blank canvas can become: the smile. 😁
Dental art is also a science. It requires a thorough understanding of how dentistry’s “paints” react, solidify, and set according to different temperatures, moisture levels, time frames and mixtures, whether it is the chemical reaction of alginate (drawn as d-mannuronic acid and l-guluronic acid), or the blue-light stimulated 3d polymerization of composite resin in restorative fillings. That's when my organic and inorganic chemistry knowledge 🧪 merges with my love for biology🧬, from the aromatic ring in lidocaine improving lipid solubility, to fluoride-assisted remineralization of enamel (depicted as Ca10(PO4)6(OH)2 +2F− → Ca10(PO4)6(F)2 + 2OH−).
One of my favorite “biologies” is microbiology. 🦠 The oral cavity is an entryway, living environment, and source of replication for millions of microbes (I’ve drawn a few: SARS COV-2, HIV, E. Coli, Pneumococcus, Diphtheria, Tetanus, etc), some of which have sparked major epidemics and pandemics. This oral-systemic link is where my interest in science “flows” into the heart and lungs of my passion for public health. 🏥 I’ve seen how the mouth is often the first place to detect disease, cancers, and immune system dysfunction; how poor oral health is linked with heart disease, diabetes, COVID-19, Alzheimer's, and other synergistic diseases rooted in socioeconomic circumstances. 😷
Given that dental decay is the most common disease in the world, and that cumulative national costs 💵 for dental treatment in many countries are higher than those for cancers and heart disease, I hope to be advocating for policies that not only increase upstream prevention and integration (depicted by superior vena cava flowing up to globe) but also prioritize resource conservation and our fragile relationship with Planet Earth. 🌎
Public health cannot be improved without improving oral health, but the “heart” 💗 (aortic artery flowing upwards in "Why Dentistry" artwork) of our health is also connected to our brain, which is where my love for psychology comes into the picture.
🧠 Our mental health influences oral health through biological channels (systemic inflammation and hormonal imbalance) and psychosocial channels (motivation, social habits, dental fear and anxiety). Meanwhile, our oral health reciprocally affects our mental health by impacting our ability to eat, talk, work, sleep, and smile: a key to confidence, identity, and social mobility. As a dentist, I hope to use tools of psychology to restructure phobias and integrate art and music therapy into dental settings--returning full circle to my favorite multi-colored “hues'' and “melodies.” 🎨🎵
The dental field is growing at such a fast rate. With a passion for teaching 📚, I hope shape the dental curriculum so that cultural competency is not just a strength but a fundamental core principle. So that mental-health informed dental care is always built from acknowledging social determinants of health. So that we can work collaboratively with all disciplines to tackle the global burden of oral disease.
So when people ask me “why do you want to be a dentist?” I say that “not just a dentist but an oral health physician 🩺, an oral health advocate 💪, and an oral health educator 📖." And who knows--maybe I’ll be adding more pieces to my “why dentistry” painting in four years.
About Me as an NHSC Scholar
On September 8th, I received my official award letter from the National Health Corps Scholarship!! The National Health Corps Scholarship provides financial support for full-time enrollment in an eligible primary care health professions degree training program between 2 yrs and up to 4 school years, covering tuition, reasonable educational costs, and monthly stipends for living expenses.
After graduation, scholars devote time practicing in a HPSA (health professional shortage area) for the years they receive the scholarship. I am very blessed for this unique opportunity. Dental disease is a neglected epidemic: more than 1/3 of low-income adults avoid smiling and face employment difficulties due to the state of their teeth. Dental pain has been reported to affect up to 30% of adults, which also impacts their ability to sleep, eat, work, and take care of their children. Right now, about 49 million Americans live in communities that have been designated dental professional shortage areas.
It’s so important to address and fix the geographical shortages of dental providers, BUT we must also think about the roots of the problem: a segregated healthcare system, a treatment over prevention culture, policies that perpetuate other social disparities in education, food access, & more. Beyond just practicing in a HPSA, I hope to continue pushing for increased dental access and prevention/education on the upstream policy level.
Click to see full perspective. Infographics explaining more about NHSC Scholarhip
Learn how I've tackled global oral health
Learn how I've merged art and music with dentistry.
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