Why Dentistry is important?
I grew up in a small rural village in Thailand with less than 500 people. The village was located approximately 2-3 hours from the city. Growing up, I was under the impression that dentists only pull and straighten teeth. I had no idea that they do more than just extractions and orthodontic treatments. For 13 years, I had only seen a dentist once for an extraction. The only reason I even visited the dentist was because my parents and brother had a difficult time pulling one of my teeth. There were many methods of pulling teeth in my childhood. Whether it was tying my tooth to a door knob or pretending to fall out of a swing, I tried them all. Sometimes these methods worked and sometimes they didn’t.
I was taught to brush twice daily by cultural norms. I learned by watching my parents. I knew I should brush my teeth but no one had ever taught me what toothbrush or toothpaste to use or what brush strokes I should perform. What is worse is I had never seen a roll of floss until I moved to the United States when I was 13 years old. I wasn’t properly educated about the importance of oral health care. Fortunately, all but my wisdom teeth are still intact. Because of the lack of accessible dental care in Thailand my teeth became very crowded. I was the girl with two lateral incisors behind my centrals. My teeth weren’t the prettiest and that affected my self confidence in school. I rarely smiled in pictures and public speaking was very difficult. With the help of orthodontic treatment, I’m able to smile and feel confident again.
The lack of dental care I experienced in Thailand brings to light the stark realization of inaccessible or challenging oral health care in rural communities. As a little girl, I wish someone taught me how important taking care of my oral health was. Because of my childhood experience, the lingering questions of, “What if I lost all my teeth before going to college? How would my self image be? What if I had a really bad toothache and my parents couldn’t take me to a dentist whose office is 2-3 hours away?” Looking back, the need for a dentist in rural communities who can give proper dental education to people and provide routine dental care for them is important.
The driving point is that rural communities need dentists as much as physicians. We are taught that oral diseases can lead to systemic diseases. Becoming a rural dentist might not be monetarily comparable to a dentist who has a practice in the city, but the level of need may be far greater.
Rural dentistry may not be for everyone, but there is value in volunteering in these communities. Bringing care to people in outlying areas raises oral health care awareness. Working or volunteering in rural areas can change someone’s life. I know when I graduate from dental school, I will find a way to give back because I knew what it is like to grow up in a rural area.