At this time of the year, dental school graduates are prepping themselves for the professional dental world. One of those students is Alex Piedra, who recently completed his 4th year at the University of Utah School of Dentistry. In this interview with THE NEXTDDS, he discusses his dental school experience, his post graduation plans, and what he plans to contribute to the profession.
THE NEXTDDS: What does the field of dentistry mean to you?
AP: Dentistry is a field where you can really change a life in many ways. One way is helping a patient smile. Also, proper dentistry is a way to fight one of the biggest infections that we have in the mouth, which is dental caries. It’s incredibly important for dentists to combat that infection.
THE NEXTDDS: Explain the difference between “fixing” and “prevention.”
AP: Prevention is key. Upon graduating from dental school, I will be going to a pediatric dental residency. As a pediatric dentist, I want to help kids have a positive dental experience and show them the proper ways to brush their teeth and take care of their mouth so they do not develop caries later in life.
THE NEXTDDS: What did you enjoy the most about dental school?
AP: I simply loved working toward a profession that has the ability to change the lives of others. I also greatly enjoyed developing relationships with my fellow students, as well as with patients and faculty. I realized the world is smaller than we think and that we can really make a change in our patient’s lives.
THE NEXTDDS: Very understandable! What role did social media or educational sites play in your dental education?
AP: I feel that a lot of us were able to visit certain social media platforms to watch procedures, just to see how they were exactly executed. I’ve read online articles and listened to audiobooks to find out about the business aspect of dentistry. The digital aspect of dentistry has helped students in several ways.
THE NEXTDDS: Absolutely! How do you see yourself improving the patient experience?
AP: I would focus on creating an amazing environment for them. If I were to own a private practice, I would make sure my hygienists, assistants, and front desk manager are all motivated to create an environment that’s inviting and friendly. I want my patients to look forward to follow-up visits. I want to make it a special experience for every patient who walks in to my office.
THE NEXTDDS: Great idea! During your tenure as a student, did you take advantage of dental outreach opportunities?
AP: Of course! I grew up in an environment in Washington where we had a core community and I remember not seeing a dentist or doctor as a child growing up. Our community helped me and my family a great deal during this time. Dental outreach became very important to me and I feel inclined to give back to the community through education or clinical work to those who cannot afford treatment. I plan to continue giving back once I complete my residency.
THE NEXTDDS: That’s very honorable of you. What key challenges did you face as a dental student?
AP: During my first and second years of school, I felt there was a lot of material to learn in a short amount of time, which was very overwhelming. Managing my time adequately and balancing my personal and school life was very challenging. I was in school from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and would study from 6:00 PM until midnight, then wake up at 4:00 AM. It took a while for me to acclimate myself to that routine.
THE NEXTDDS: That’s definitely a challenge! What is your philosophy on how oral health relates to overall health?
AP: Oral health is the gateway to understanding your body’s overall health. There are a lot of research studies that link xerostomia, dental caries, and even cancer to poor oral health. Activity in the mouth in terms of poor oral health may be an early precursor or indicator of what is going on in the rest of the body.
THE NEXTDDS: What are your post-graduation plans?
AP: I plan to do a pediatric dental residency for 2 years. I hope to see a lot of children and give them the proper treatment they need, because they are our future. I’ll be speaking with them and figuring out how I may best serve them and give them the best oral health experience. I want to create an environment in which the kids look forward to returning for appointments and hopefully, they share their experience with others. Watching kids return one by one, over the years until they become adults with no cavities would be awesome!
THE NEXTDDS: It surely would be! What do you think you will contribute to the dentistry profession?
AP: I want to change the way we think about dentistry. Sometimes, I feel that we only focus on the teeth and oral cavity, but we need to remember that there is a person attached to those teeth. My goal is to constantly create a good experience for my patients. Also, I want other dentists to understand that every person in that chair has a life, goals, and aspirations as well, so we need to uplift them. I want every one of my patients, adult or child, to feel inspired when they leave that dental chair. We need to create that positive environment for them so they walk out with a smile.
THE NEXTDDS: What a great way to end this interview! Alex, thank you taking the time to speak with us and a special CONGRATULATIONS from all of us at THE NEXTDDS for completing dental school! We wish you much success in your future endeavors!