I didn’t know just how much your smile can affect your perception of yourself until the night I lost it: with two minutes left in the final period, the opponent was pressing hard to try to tie the game. One of our players took a penalty, so they had a man advantage. The puck skipped across the ice and the receiving player snapped it at the net, hitting me square in the mask. The straps unclipped and the mask fell off my head. The ref blew the whistle. I was dizzy; I touched my mouth and saw blood. Then I realized, my two front teeth were missing. For a few weeks, I didn’t smile. Later that week I spoke to my dentist and he took a look at the gap in my teeth. He told me that I was a good candidate for implants, which I hadn’t even considered; I thought I was doomed to my appearance. Within the month the dentist performed the procedure. I got my smile back.
Having what I would consider a life-changing experience at the dentist, I started to take the possibility of becoming one seriously. So, in my second year of undergraduate studies, I travelled to Guatemala as a predental volunteer. The goal of the trip was to improve access to dental care and treatment for underserved communities. I spent my time talking to locals about dental care, about their experience with it. I learned a lot about some of the common dental issues the community experienced; tooth decay was a big one. Our dentists provided community members with cleanings to help reverse the decay before it worsened. We also handed out toothbrushes, toothpaste, and mouthwash. From this experience, I learned the value of giving back to the community. I spoke to patients about their concerns and helped identify available treatments or procedures that our volunteering dentists could perform. Because there was often a language barrier, I had to learn how to adjust my communication style, especially when dealing with children.
Returning from the trip, I decided I wanted to do something about the lack of attention given to mouth safety in sports. Mouthguards can protect against mouth injuries, as well as concussions. As a player on the university team, I spoke with the coaching staff so we could organize a player safety program requiring players to wear mouthguards. After some brief back and forth, it became an established rule. I became a member of the university’s player safety program and began to campaign for more robust safety measures. I organized some events with other interested players and staff members to discuss injury prevention. I also worked more behind the scenes to recruit people to join the effort. I wanted all hands on deck. I lead a group of over twenty active members promoting our injury prevention campaign across social media and on campus. I made final decisions about what information I wanted to communicate. I also learned how to delegate tasks like printing flyers, writing blog posts, and compiling research. Being in charge of a small group like this taught me the importance of developing a shared vision and communicating values.
Through my experience gaining different perspectives on dental health and its accessibility, I developed a new sense of conviction regarding how I want to structure my career. If my personal experience is the seed, the experience of others in an underserved community is the budding flower. I am confident that I can carry my passion throughout my studies and become a strong advocate in the field. I want to continue to advocate for player safety and expand to other sports. If given the opportunity, I’d also like to evolve my community service effort by potentially travelling to underserved cities as a fully licensed dentist.