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 they seized and excelled at opportunities unavailable to them in India. From a young age, they instilled in me firm cultural roots. Speaking, reading, and writing Panjabi helped cement and preserve those ties that bound our family to the traditions of their native land.
They always maintained strict educational standards, and our home always prioritized higher education. 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 the 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.
Wanting to experience a different culture, I opted to study at the prestigious Manipal College of Dental Sciences in Karnataka, India. My parents supported my dentistry career, seeing it as an achievement for the entire family. In dental school, I strived to distinguish myself 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 primary dental care, with many still utilizing ancient brushing practices with neem twigs instead of toothbrushes. I was shocked that people knew the connection between smoking or betel nut chewing with carcinomas. Motivated by common oral findings in the local population relating to severe 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 educating, diagnosing, and preventing oral conditions in youth and on creating good habits from a young age. A critical aspect of the program was getting parents involved in their children’s health and incorporating the same practices for themselves. We created a referral system linked to surrounding universities to complete needed treatment at an affordable cost.
Upon completing my degree, I joined a clinical attachment position at Whipps Cross Hospital in London, England. I helped care for many patients from different ethnic, social, and cultural backgrounds. I gained extensive experience performing biopsies and extractions, assisting in surgeries involving skeletal malocclusions, cysts, salivary gland calcifications, hemimandibulectomis, and pectoral flap surgeries related to neoplasia. While training in the public hospital, I first came across the full scope of head and neck carcinomas, from diagnosis to treatment. I realized that the lack of knowledge about oral health care was not unique to just India but was also starkly evident in the United Kingdom. This further strengthened my resolve to contribute to oral health education.
Working in private dental practice 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 coordinator to manager. I have continued to update my core knowledge of the dental profession through continuing education courses, paying particular 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 appropriate protocols in the dental office to ensure that our patients get the most current and immediate care. In bringing this information back to our dental practice, I incidentally identified several signs of HPV infection in the mouth of our regular hygienist. As a friend, I accessed her to follow through with the required investigations and discuss treatment options. Through this process, I realized the importance of informing and teaching other professionals about some of the cardinal signs in diagnosing oral carcinomas.
I have discussed my plans to pursue my dental career in North America with my mentors. I was informed by my superiors that programs in the USA provide cutting-edge technology and are at the forefront of research. I seek to complete a DDS program that will give me a solid foundation for lifelong study in the area of HPV-related oral carcinomas and eventually be able to guide and teach prospective future dentists.
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