A Tribute to My Dad and My Dental Beginnings
On a cold New England night in 2001, I received the best piece of mail I could have received: my admission letter to dental school. This night, and the day I graduated from dental school, were truly the happiest days of my life. I have been thinking about those times because my father, my strongest supporter of the long journey I took to becoming a dental professional, recently passed away. It seemed only right to dedicate this month’s blog to him.
My father was from the Sudan, where little to no dental care was available to children — no regular six-month cleanings, no berry-flavored fluoride to paint on their teeth. And yet, my dad had beautiful, healthy teeth because he cared so much about good oral care and maintaining a healthy mouth. He also introduced me to the “miswak”: a chewing stick derived from the miswak tree. He used to encourage me to brush with it and chew on its splayed fibers. I brushed the miswak off, insisting that the modern nylon-bristled toothbrush was the ultimate tooth cleaner. Thirty years later, I, too, discovered the benefits to the chewing stick and its effectiveness against oral bacteria and plaque reduction. Clearly, my dad did learn a thing or two about healthy teeth and gums, even though he had no dentist to show him the way.
Many dentists have family members or parents who are also dentists and were role models as they considered the profession. They might have had opportunities to spend time in dental offices before they even entered dental school. No one in my family was involved in dentistry, but it didn’t matter because my dad gave me the opportunity to be treated by an elite group of Norwegian dentists. That’s how I met the dentists who inspired me to become one. When I shared my career decision with my parents, my dad, in his usual reserved manner, was happy with my choice, but somber about how long and arduous a path it would be. Moreover, it would mean that I would be away from him for a long time, and visits would be infrequent and short. “Such is life, but I’m so happy that you picked a good career,” he said.
Once again, he was right — it certainly was a long and arduous journey to achieving my goal. For some of us, the quest to be the best dentist we can be doesn’t stop at graduation. My dad worked tirelessly throughout his life and valued hard work, effort and ambition. He faced many challenges in his professional life but faced them head on, fearlessly. I’m grateful I inherited those values, which carry me through my own career, and for my dad, who proudly supported me in all my endeavors and dental pursuits all the way to the end. Thank you, Dad. I miss you.