How do you get adults to stop fearing a visit to the dentist? Easy. Give them a great experience when they’re still kids.
That’s the word from Dr. Michele Dozier, who says that giving children a great experience is the key to ensuring they’re unafraid to see the dentist regularly throughout their lives. And she should know. Dr. Dozier has treated thousands of children around the world as a volunteer and at her practice, nusmiles, in Takoma Park, Maryland.
We recently reached out to Dr. Dozier and talked about the many places she’s served as a pediatric dentist, what her top recommendations are for parents and how she recharges after seeing more than 3,000 patients a year.
How and when did you decide to become a dentist?
There were no dentists around me growing up or anything like that. I’m the first in my family to go to college. It was just that I had a lot of dental problems as a child, and my dentist was great. I was inspired.
After you graduated from dental school, you traveled widely as a general dentist. Can you tell us about some of the places that you’ve practiced?
I did a lot of volunteer work in Guatemala, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. Then I was in the Indian Health Service, so I went up near the North Pole and to Nevada.
You’ve said that you discovered a passion for pediatric dentistry during your travels. What was it that drew you to the field?
A lot of people say they don’t want to work with kids, because a lot of people don’t know how to deal with kids. I like working with kids, because they make me laugh. They speak the truth.
And if I can get kids to have a great experience when they’re young, they don’t become that timid person when they’re older and it comes time to see the dentist. They always remember going to the dentist as a great experience.
For me, because I had such a good experience with my dentist, I always want to make sure kids have a good experience.
Was there a particular experience you found especially memorable in that regard?
One thing I found really memorable was that Third World children can be very stoic and appreciative of dentistry. In some places, they may not have had the chance to see a dentist in years. People would travel for hours and then wait in line for hours just to be seen. Here in the United States, people may have free dentistry, they may have insurance, but they don’t take advantage of it!
When I was in the Dominican Republic, I was literally extracting teeth with people’s heads in my lap: I’m sitting on a table, they’re in a chair in front of me, they lean back with their head in my lap, and I’m extracting teeth. There’s no suction, nothing. They’re spitting into a bucket. But in that really small town, they were always so happy to see me. When I walked down the street, they’d say, “Here comes the Saca-muelas!” which means “takes-out-teeth.” They were so excited because they didn’t have a dentist. That for me is what makes me go back. You can change someone’s life just by taking care of their dentition.
What’s your top piece of advice to parents when it comes time to bring kids to the dentist?
My No. 1 piece of advice is: Don’t project any of your fears onto your children! Don’t joke and say, “I’m going to tell the dentist to pull your teeth out,” or try to scare them that they’re going to get a shot. That’s not cool, because then I have to unteach that fear when they come in.
Going to the dentist can be a pleasant experience, and if we can keep it that way, kids don’t have to go through any trauma. I’m here to beautify a smile, not to cause any pain. That’s the last thing I want to do. Kids have so much to deal with in life that can be negative. Let’s make one less thing negative.
Why did you decide to base your practice in Takoma Park?
I went to Maryland Dental School in Baltimore, and I did my residency in pediatrics in Las Vegas. I came back to this area right on the border next to D.C. because I’m a city girl. I love the city. I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York, so I just came down the coast. And I love the diversity.
Speaking of diversity, there have been some recent reports highlighting the lack of diversity in dentistry. In your opinion, what is most needed to improve diversity in the field?
Recruitment is important. Schools in the city tend to have more diversity, but when you go out to the Midwest, that’s not the case. When I did my residency, there were probably two black people out of about 350 people.
For me, Temple University had a pre-dentistry summer program. They brought students in who were considering dentistry. If you have programs that actually recruit and bring people in, that can really pique their interest.
What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not practicing dentistry?
I like to travel. Travel and self-care. I work with kids, and I probably see over 3,000 patients a year. I have to become a friend, a counselor, a clown, a negotiator, all these things I have to be with every single child. With that, the biggest key is wellness. I love the spa, and I love to travel. If I don’t have the mental capacity to come in every single day, there’s no point. I think taking care of yourself and keeping yourself balanced is the key.
Congratulations to Dr. Dozier for being our Dental Health Partner of the Month, and a big thank you for taking the time to share her thoughts with us! Be sure to visit Dr. Dozier’s website and Twitter.