In which I’m not a lady dentist, just a regular dentist

I typically don’t think of myself as a feminist. To clarify, I mean I’m not usually one to be aggressively all “women’s rights!” and “burn all the bras!”. Thanks to the sacrifices and advocacy of our mothers and grandmothers we’re fortunately moving into an enlightened era where I am considered on equal footing with my male colleagues. Usually.

Since I put up a picture of my desk at work, this is my desk at home.

Since I put up a picture of my desk at work, this is my desk at home.

However I tend to slide into feminism when I get placed and labeled as a different category because of my chromosomes and not my abilities.

In dental school I first lived in a small house in the suburban ghetto. It was great and the price was right, but after two break in attempts and one major break in where a lot of my stuff was stolen and trashed I gave up and moved to a cute apartment within walking distance of campus. A couple of my guy classmates helped me lug all the heavy furniture in the morning and in exchange I helped them with their own move between apartments later in the afternoon. Teamwork! Also I think we were procrastinating studying for a radiology final.

When we were moving the last of their boxes in the landlady showed up to do some supervising. As I was struggling under some poorly packed items she asked which one of the guys I was dating. “Oh no ma’am, none of these guys! We’re classmates.” I tried to keep my Oh no to a not horribly disgusted tone. Dating any of these guys would be like dating my brother. Ew. She nodded like that made sense. Later on I overheard her asking some of the boys in the kitchen, “So is the lady going to be a dentist too?”, she seemed incredulous. “Really? Like the dentist doctor? Not the teeth cleaner?”. Nope ma’am, like the lady dentist doctor. You know, I forgave her ignorance – an old lady from the South, it’s almost to be expected. Prejudice dies hard around there. I mean, my deeply southern grandparents still refer to black people as “coloreds”, so I can’t even be surprised.

Since then Jeff has endearingly referred to me as his “lady dentist”.

Old typodont dental models from school

Old typodont dental models from school

A couple of weeks ago I was supervising in the pre-doctoral clinic where we have dental students from the University of Washington come in to do cleanings and exams to learn more about pediatric dentistry. The typical flow involves the pre-doc student treating the patient and then the attending or resident comes and checks everything again to make sure they didn’t miss anything. Kids get impatient, so I try to be ready as soon as the pre-doc is done so I can scoot right in and finish the appointment. As I was getting ready to sit down for one wiggly patient the mom explained to her 5 year old girl why she couldn’t get out of the chair yet, “No wait hunny, the woman doctor needs to look at your teeth.”. Woman doctor. Not just regular doctor. Woman doctor. Like lady dentist. I’m pretty sure no one calls her woman mommy.


Tooth study models from my first year of dental school. We learn to recreate these in wax so we can learn the anatomy of each one.

Last week I bought a bicycle off of craigslist and the time the seller and I had arranged to meet meant that I needed to go straight from work. When I pulled into her driveway to check out the bike a woman about my age greeted me and then took one look at my scrubs and immediately said, “Oh you must be a nurse”. Way to help the cause sister. If I’m wearing scrubs, couldn’t I easily be a doctor too? We do ourselves a disservice when we make gender imposing assumptions. She could’ve said “Oh you’re in healthcare” or “Oh do you work in the hospital?” just as easily.

Three women, three different generations and in different locations all made similar assumptions. Ladies, we’ve got to be just a little bit better, especially to ourselves. If we’re going to break through any glass ceilings to find completely equal footing with our XY counterparts it’s got to start with us. Most days this is a non-issue and I’m very thankful for that, but it’s that last little smidge we’ve yet to erase that occasionally raises its ugly head and irks me.

I’m not perfect, I catch myself making gender assumptions all the time. I awkwardly trip over police officer instead of policeman. Mail carrier instead of mailman. Firefighter instead of fireman. But I’m trying.聽I try to talk to little girls about their favorite books or sports, not their favorite dress or shoes. Gender equality is just a muscle that needs to be exercised often enough until it’s second nature. If we do it enough, maybe our daughters won’t have to.

Let’s love and think highly enough of ourselves to do that, okay girls?

In which there was some guerrilla dentistry

I’ve been some cool places to do dentistry, and occasionally it wasn’t always in the most ideal conditions. Sometimes I use the term guerrilla dentistry to describe the incidences when you’ve got to work with what you’ve got to get the job done. You might not have enough gauze, electricity, clean water or light, but with a clear and smart head you can still do a lot of good.

I’ve been in orphanages with the US Army in Moldova:

DSC_0236 - Copy

Where I first learned to love pediatric dentistry. Click on this picture to go to our blog about it (

DSC_0301 - Copy

Occasionally our power would go out and I’d attached my loupes headlight to the overhead light and we’d keep on working with hand instruments.

To all over rural North Carolina with the Mission of Mercy (MoM) clinics:

Typical set up - our temporary dental stations would be deployed in a gym , church or other community center

Typical set up – our temporary dental stations would be deployed in a gym , church or other community center. Patients often slept outside for days for a chance at free dental care.


I did a rotation in Asheville in the summer between 3rd and 4th year and one of my dental assistants from the rotation, Karen, came down later that fall to help me out in Sylva, NC. In all I helped in clinics in Dare County, Durham, Hillsborough, New Bern, New London, Sparta, Sylva and Wilmington, NC

To most exotically, Kenya:

Taking out infected teeth for a Maasai woman while her brother-in-law and his wife look on

Taking out infected teeth for a Maasai woman while her brother-in-law and his wife look on. Click on the picture for a link to our blog for this trip (

Our clinic here is perfectly equipped to handle most anything that walks through its doors and is one of the most well staffed, well supplied and modern places I’ve ever had the dream of working. Today though I got to break out some of my rotation skills in the resident room:

The bright light is my desk lap that the attending is holding so I can see down his dark mouth hole.

The bright light is my desk lap that the attending is holding so I can see down his dark mouth hole.

One of our attendings bit his tongue badly enough this morning to require sutures. Poor guy! I numbed him up and stitched him back up in one of our nice operatories upstairs, but he was so numb afterwards we tried a reversal agent to get it to wear off faster. I was between patients so we ran down to the resident room to do it just as Bri walked in with a “Do I even want to know?”. She shot this picture for me.

I’m itching to go back out into the bush (definition: wherever there is some pediatric dental care needed) and help out again soon.

In which it’s interview season

We had our first round of interviewees for new residency positions this weekend. Seeing their bright, shiny, nervous faces made me so happy and thankful to be on this side of the process!

To be a dentist you have to go to dental school, pass several boards and get licensed in a state. This qualifies you to be a general dentist and practice “within your scope” or in other words, do whatever you feel you have the skill and desire to do. To be a specialist in dentistry you must complete a residency program which can last between 2 and 6 years AFTER dental school (which is 4 years of school AFTER college – we define “professional student”). Currently there are nine recognized specialties聽in dentistry:

  • Dental Public Health: These individuals focus on controlling dental disease on a community wide scale
  • Endodontics: Root Canals
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology: Head and neck cancer and other weird things
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Radiology: The radiologists of the dental world
  • Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery: Focus on wisdom teeth removal and putting your face back together
  • Orthodontics: Concentrate on braces and wearing golf shirts
  • Pediatrics: Pediatricians of the dental world
  • Periodontics: The deep cleaners and gum gardeners
  • Prosthodontics: Implants, crowns, bridges and dentures

We closely mirror our medical colleagues who are required to do a residency after medical school in how we are accepted into our specialty programs (if we choose to pursue them). In the summer (sometimes in your senior year of dental school, sometimes after you’ve been out into the work force for a while and want to specialize later) you send out your application to a bunch of programs. In the fall you interview at programs that have invited you.

Some specialities (prosth, perio, endo) offer you an acceptance or rejection within days of the interview. Others, at a predetermined day in the winter, rank everyone they’ve interviewed and you in turn rank them in order of where you would like to go. All these rankings go into a magical computer program and a week or two later the computer spits out that you either 1) “Matched” which means you made it into a program and it tells you the ONE program you’ve been accepted to or 2) “Did not Match” which means you didn’t get in and need to apply again for the next cycle. Very much like sorority recruitment.

Name tag from my Yale interview last year.. they did not win points for geography.

The interviews in the fall are stressful – you’re constantly on the road, in airports, staying in overpriced hotels, juggling whatever senior year responsibilities you need to graduate and study for boards. It’s also fun because you get to see new places and meet new people (ostensibly the colleagues you’ll have for the rest of your life and who you’ll be running into at conferences for years to come).

Last year sitting in an airport, studying for boards.

Pediatric dentistry has become more competitive in recent years. Last year, the year I applied, 604 people applied to “match” for 343 spots.聽The cost of applying, flying around the country and attending interviews is enormous, but so is not getting in and spending another year applying if you don’t match. The stakes are high. So I get why these well qualified professionals were a little nervous this past weekend – hell, I was when I was in their shoes last year. That’s why I’m so thankful I’m on this side of it.

To help the applicants get a feel of our program beyond the number of operating room cases we do, number of patients we see, types of degrees we offer, rotation schedule, etc, my fellow residents put together a powerpoint on each current resident. Your fellow residents can make or break a program regardless of the other amenities it offers. I’m so fortunate to now only have found brilliant future colleagues here in Seattle, but folks that’ll be lifelong friends. They are the people who celebrate my bright days and pull me up during the tougher ones. My new study partners and lab mates. I love each and every one of them. If I could tell anyone interviewing what to look for in a program I would tell them to look at the residents and how they get along. It is an excellent predictor of future happiness in a program.

My slide from the powerpoint.

We gave two truths and a lie to have the applicants get to know us as people better in a more relaxed format – I think I learned almost as much about the current residents as the interviewees did! You can see my lie is that I speak Spanish.. I’ll leave all the espanol to mi hermanita (had to look that up).

Good luck to all the applicants out there! Smile, relax, be yourself. You’ll do fine 馃檪