I stood behind the curtain, doing vocal exercises. Something didn’t feel quite right. Notes were all over the place, my gums were inflamed, my throat dry, and my jaw sore. It had been getting worse recently, but I tried not to think about it. I had more important things to care about, like this performance. I was auditioning for a role in a musical production. I wasn’t told what character I was trying out for, so I brought my guitar. They called my name, and I went up on stage. My hands were sweating, I kept swallowing to try to soothe my dry throat. Massaging my jaw didn’t help. They gave me the green light to begin. The lights dimmed, and my heart pounded. My confidence was shot. My voice cracked on the first note. I continued, but I already knew one small mistake would prove costly. The pain was immense, but I kept going; my voice cracked a few more times. I was devastated. I didn’t get the part, and what’s worse, I didn’t know what was going on with my mouth. I drove straight to the dentist to see about my jaw.
The name of the dentist was Dr. Ahmed Harker. He was kind, understanding, and listened to my concerns. I confessed that I didn’t like going to the dentist, and that I hadn’t been to one in three years. He laughed and explained that that was normal and I had nothing to be ashamed about. He took a quick look at my jaw and said that my wisdom teeth were impacted and infected, which would explain the pain and swelling. When I asked if having them removed would improve my vocals, he assured me that it almost certainly would. I felt a wave of relief wash over me. We scheduled the extraction for later that week and once I recovered from the surgery, I was back in the studio, practicing and recording. I could sing again. Without pain or insecurity. I thanked Dr. Harker profusely. He’d opened my eyes to the importance of dental hygiene and maintenance, especially as it pertained to my singing. I really admired his empathetic approach and comforting communication style.
This experience planted the seed of curiosity. I was entering my first year of undergraduate studies and thinking about my future. Being a molecular biology student, I felt like I had many options to consider. I joined the school’s predental club and started learning about the field. I spoke to other students who were in my position, as well as guest speakers who were dentists or dental surgeons. One of the speakers was offering shadowing sessions for interested predental students, so I immediately jumped on the opportunity to learn more. Before I knew it, I was back in the dental office, only this time I was observing wisdom teeth extraction from the point of view of the dentist. I enjoyed witnessing the collaboration between the dentist, assistants, and anesthesiologist. Their communication was seamless. Seeing them work so well together galvanized my interest in pursuing the same relationships with my future colleagues.
Following this shadowing experience, I was still craving more. I signed up to volunteer at a student-run dental clinic. My job was to sterilize equipment and prepare stations for dental procedures; I also performed some administrative tasks like answering the phone and confirming appointments. I learned about how to communicate with patients; to moderate my tone and to listen fully to their concerns and questions. I wanted them to feel as comfortable as I’d felt sitting with Dr. Harker. It was also a great opportunity to learn about the various functions within a dental office that allows it to run smoothly. It was at this time that I was certain that a career in dentistry was the right fit for me. I still plan on recording and releasing music as a vocal artist, but I figure my perspective as a singer and as a dentist can only enhance my ability to promote dental health and hygiene; not just for singers, but for everyone.
I know what it’s like to be sitting in that chair, the bright lights pointing down at you, dreading what the future might hold. I’d like to dispel the fear that people feel when they go to the dentist and show them that caring for your teeth is essential for your overall health and wellness. Becoming a dentist will allow me to pursue this end of oral health promotion; as someone who nearly ruined her singing career over my hesitation to visit a dentist, I can share my story and imbibe my training with passion and perspective. Not only will I use it to motivate my classmates, but I believe I can inspire some people to seek help when they’ve been suffering.