A self-confessed nervous patient herself, Maven Dental Windsor's newest dentist, Dr Sarah Lee loves helping her patients overcome that fear of the dentist so they can achieve brighter, healthier smiles. Sarah jumped 'In the Chair' this week to chat to us about her volunteer missions across Asia and the Pacific and her artistic flair.
What inspired you to become a dentist?
I was inspired while I was on a medical mission trip as a pharmacist in 2010 in the rural villages of Vanuatu. I was the leader of a medical team providing basic first aid and health education, when I saw a great need for dental services in areas that had limited access to any type of healthcare.
People were suffering with toothache pain because they would have to travel for 2 days by foot just to get to the nearest hospital. This became my greatest motivation for becoming a dentist plus my passion for patient care, which I developed in my pharmacy years.
I loved the idea of being able to treat patients while having a personal interaction with them as a dentist. My motivation to be a dentist is not only to provide a health service but also to build relationships with people and get to know and understand them on a personal level. It makes my day special and worth the hard work.
You’ve spent some time overseas as a volunteer. Where did you go and what was the experience like?
I’ve been to a few countries for volunteer medical/dental missions including Vanuatu (over 6 years), Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and Timor.
The experience in each country was very different! I was traveling with different teams in different climates. We would travel to rural villages by a truck or ship where locals would be gathered already by the village leader and waiting for us. Having to work with portable equipment, treating patients was physically challenging but all the more worth it knowing these patients wouldn’t have access to dental treatment until the next volunteer team arrived.
The people were always extremely grateful and the entire village would thank us with home-made gifts and food. It was always a physically challenging but spiritually rewarding experience. The greatest moment was when I returned to Vanuatu after a year and the local children still remembered my name. I am planning on leading a high school team to Vanuatu in December 2019, to inspire missionary work in young people.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is when I see a patient smile after their treatment and when I receive feedback about how they are now able to smile with confidence or eat those nuts or steak they’ve been craving.
It’s also extremely rewarding when an anxious patient comes in and they tell you they’re very nervous but walk out saying, “that wasn’t as bad as I expected,” or “that was actually quite pleasant.” I confess to being a nervous dental patient myself and understand the widespread fear of dentists. So I have strategies and techniques to help the patients to be as comfortable as possible and empower them to be in control.
You’re passionate about paediatric (children’s) dental. How important is it for children to learn about oral health early?
I am passionate about children and teaching them about oral hygiene. As I have seen a lot of oral health problems in areas of limited access to healthcare, I believe the key to a healthy mouth and beautiful smile is education at an early age. Oral hygiene is a lifelong habit, which develops from as early as 2-3 years of age. So it’s very important for a child to develop good oral hygiene habits from as early as possible.
I visit local childcare centres and kindergartens in the Hills district to promote oral health to children. The sessions are entertaining and fun to engage the little ones, as well as informative in teaching children to distinguish good and ‘sometimes only’ foods and how to brush their teeth.
While promoting oral hygiene to schools in Vanuatu, I created a ‘tooth-brushing song’ to the melody of a common nursery rhyme. Even if we had a language barrier, they understood the song and we could hear them singing it over-and-over even as we were leaving the school. I taught the song to a dental volunteer team called “Solar Smiles,” when I travelled with them to Timor-Leste. The locals helped to translate the song into their language, Tetum, which became another hit with the children.
We hear you’re quite the artist in your spare time?
I have always had a love for visual arts and design. If I didn’t become a dentist I would have become a designer. I still love to draw and create artworks in my spare time and take classes on my days off to learn new programs for designing. I love to sketch people and animals using lead pencils as well as using a tablet to design images on the computer. I’ve designed my own t-shirts and bags using digital programs and find that it is a fun and personal way to give gifts.
I find that dentistry is also very artistic and creative. As a dentist you’re always re-creating the beauty of nature as well as improving people’s aesthetics. I’ve learned to incorporate my artistic passion into dentistry, which further fuels the excitement for the work that I do.
And what makes you smile?
Many things make me smile, like ice-cream, good movies, singing, listening to great singers, playing the guitar and especially my dog, Charlie. There is nothing like being greeted by an excited fluffy face after a hard day’s work.
But more than animals, people who smile ultimately make me smile. And when I’ve helped someone in any way whether it’s through dental treatment or words of encouragement to bring about their smile, that is what gives me the most joy and contentment.
Book your next appointment with Dr Sarah Lee and the team at Maven Dental Windsor