A first generation Canadian born to parents who emigrated from Punjab, India to Toronto, Canada, I understood the importance of education and hard work early in my life. For my parents, building a new life to raise their children in a new land would only be fruitful if their children seized and excelled at opportunities that were unavailable to them in India. From a young age, they instilled me in very strong cultural roots. Speaking, reading and writing Panjabi helped to cement and preserve those ties that bound our family to the traditions of their native home.
They always maintained strict educational standards, and higher education was given top priority in our house. My keen interest in biology and human anatomy inclined me towards the physical sciences and health care. I was accepted into the human science program at University of Toronto but I felt an undergraduate program was not the right fit for me. My artistic nature and appreciation for intricate detail made dentistry the perfect choice.
Hoping to experience a different culture from which I was accustomed, I opted to study at the prestigious Manipal College of Dental Sciences in Karnataka, India. My parents being extremely supportive of my career in dentistry, seeing it as an achievement for the entire family. In dental school, I strived to distinguish myself both academically and by involving myself in extra-curricular activities, eagerly contributing to helping the underserved in the communities around my university. I was surprised at the lack of basic dental care, with many still utilizing ancient brushing practises with neem twigs instead of toothbrushes and shocked at how few people were aware of the connection between smoking or betel nut chewing with carcinomas. Motivated by common oral findings in the local population relating to serious health afflictions, I joined a group of friends to establish a mobile dental clinic for school children in rural areas. Our mission was focused on education, diagnosis and prevention of oral conditions in youth and to creating good habits from a young age. A critical aspect of the program was getting parents involved not only in their children’s health, but also incorporating the same practises for themselves. We created a referral system linked to surrounding universities to complete needed treatment at an affordable cost.
Upon completion of my degree, I joined a clinical attachment position at Whipps Cross Hospital in London, England. I helped to care for a wide range of patients from different ethnic, social and cultural backgrounds and gained extensive experience performing biopsies, extractions, assisting in surgeries involving skeletal malocclusions, cysts, salivary gland calcifications, hemimandibulectomis and pectoral flap surgeries related to neoplasia. It was during my training in the public hospital that I first came across the full scope of head and neck carcinomas, from diagnosis to treatment. I realized that the lack of knowledge pertaining to oral health care was not unique to just India but was also starkly evident in the United Kingdom as well. This further strengthened my resolve to contribute to oral health education.
Working in a private dental practise back in Canada, I have had the opportunity to work alongside several very talented dental professionals, some of whom have become my mentors. My roles have varied from chair-side assistant to treatment co-ordinator to manager as I have continued to update my core knowledge of the dental profession through continuing education courses, paying special attention to the rise of HPV related oral carcinomas in North America, and the delay in establishing proper screening and diagnosis. I have worked closely with dentists to educate the entire dental team and create proper protocols in the dental office to ensure that our patients are getting the most current and immediate care. In bringing this information back to our dental practise, I incidentally identified several signs of HPV infection in the mouth of our regular hygienist. As a friend, I took an active role in pressing her to follow through with the required investigations and discuss treatment options. It was through this process that I realized the importance of informing and teaching other professionals about the some of the cardinal signs in the diagnosis of oral carcinomas.
I have discussed my future plans to pursue my dental career in North America with my mentors. Having graduated from a dental program in the United States themselves, I was informed by my superiors that programs in the USA provide cutting edge technology and are on the forefront of research. I seek to complete a DDS program that will provide me with a solid foundation to build my future aspirations; to contribute to research in the area of HPV related oral carcinomas and eventually be able to guide and teach prospective future dentists. And as dentists, I believe we are on the foreground of diagnosing and educating the general population about their overall health.