Celeste Williams knew from the time she was a child that she wanted to study dentistry, medicine or psychiatry. For a long time, however, she didn’t know which way the chips would fall.
Now a third-year Dentistry student, Celeste has clearly made her decision. But how did she discover on which side of the fence her talents and aspirations lay — not to mention, what she sees herself doing after her degree?
Celeste says one of her cousins, Dr. Chadwick Williams, was a role model for her.
“He was the first from our community [East Preston] to study to become a medical doctor,” she says. “He encouraged me and told me that if he could do it, I could do it.”
She also had the opportunity to shadow her own dentist, Dr. Gordie Rudolph (DDS ‘89). "That experience helped me realize that dentistry was something I wanted to do long-term,” says Celeste.
Learning by hand
What swayed the balance in favour of dentistry over psychiatry, she explains, is the hands-on element. “I like working with my hands,” she says. That also explains why she chose chemistry for her first degree. It was the hands-on experiments that appealed to her.
After graduating from Dal with a BSc in 2013, Celeste returned to take the three pre-requisites required for the dentistry program and completed the Dental Aptitude Test. In 2014 she began to study dentistry in earnest.
First semester was tough, she admits, with a lot of material to absorb and many exams to prepare for. “I got used to it,” she says cheerfully, “and my classmates were super helpful. We’d compile our notes and distribute them with study tips.”
Soon, Celeste and her classmates were cleaning each other’s teeth in preparation for working on patients. “I was so nervous. Most of my classmates were given simple cleanings to do, but my first patient had a chipped tooth, so right away I was doing a filling. Once I got started, the nervousness disappeared. I felt prepared and I knew what I was doing.”
Third year finds Celeste in the thick of it. She has six clinic blocks each week, with one or two patients in each block. She has been taught how to do fillings, debridement, X-rays, oral surgery, and dentures. Root canals will follow at the end of the year.
A community legacy
During Reading Week, Celeste volunteered at the North End Community Health Centre (NECHC), where fourth-year students go on regular rotations throughout the year. The Reading Week clinic enables dentistry students from other years to gain experience with patients who struggle to get access to care. Celeste was excited to have completed her first two extractions there.
The NECHC experience fits neatly with Celeste’s plans for the future, which she hopes will involve both public health dentistry and pediatrics.
In the summer after her second year, Celeste worked as a summer research student in the Faculty of Dentistry on a topic that combined both areas of interest.
“It was also closely linked to me,” she says. She looked at the work of the North Preston Dental Clinic over its 20 year history. Opened in 1995 in Nelson Whynder Elementary School, the clinic is the result of a collaboration between the Faculty of Dentistry, the North Preston community, and the school board, prompted by Nova Scotia Department of Health statistics that revealed children in North Preston had the highest prevalence of dental caries – cavities – in the province.
For her project, Celeste delved into nearly 400 patient charts and presented her findings at her Table Clinic presentation in January. Even though the Canadian Dental Association recommends that children visit the dentist within six months of their first tooth erupting or at least by age one, Celeste found that on average over a span of 20 years, most children visited the clinic at age five – when they started attending Nelson Whynder school. In 2016, the age had dropped to around three. Overall, there has been an increase in the number of children seeing a dentist at an earlier age, however improvement is still required.
Making a difference
Thanks to her research, Celeste can see the need to advocate more strongly to get children to see a dentist at age one and educate parents and guardians about the importance of oral health. “A lot of people — particularly those in somewhat isolated communities — don’t seek treatment on a regular basis,” says Celeste.
She plans to visit health fairs in the community and to conduct more community outreach sessions. “I’d like to see more avenues and support for the community, health-wise, that residents can access,” she says.
Celeste’s research has also made her determined to pursue a career that combines public health and paediatrics.
“To me, they go hand-in-hand,” she says. “I see myself working in those fields."
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