The Hardest Part of Dentistry by Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta

The Hardest Part of Dentistry 

This Townie was close to quitting, until she reevaluated her mindset and set out in a new direction

by Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta

For me, the hardest part of being a dentist is being a happy one. You see, I’d never dreamed of being a dentist; I went into dental school last minute because my original plan of being a university professor didn’t work out. And once I was in dental school, I felt like a fraud.

Everyone seemed smarter than me. Everyone wanted to be there. They all seemed to pick up clinical skills quickly and loved talking teeth during lunch. I spent my lunch hours in the lab drilling fake teeth because the head restorative instructor told me I needed extra practice. I didn’t tell anyone that I had to repeat one of my final exams because I’d failed it. I didn’t tell anyone that I hated dentistry. I thought things would get better once I became a dentist. They didn’t. I thought my associateship was the problem, so I changed offices. Miserable. I changed offices again. Still miserable. I thought maybe I should buy my own practice. I thought maybe I should quit.

Then, some things more important than my career took over my life: My dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and I became pregnant with my first child. While my son was growing inside me, my dad was dying beside me. Alone with my father in palliative care, I watched him take his final breaths. Two months later, in the same hospital, I watched my son take his first. I experienced the darkest time in my life and then the most joyous. I also experienced something surprising: I missed dentistry. What I learned from witnessing death and then life is that death is inevitable but having a happy life is up to me. I went back to dentistry, but this time I went back with a plan. I was going to be happy.

A new start, a new mindset

I became an educator part time at a dental hygiene college. I was doing what I originally wanted to do—teach! I wanted to learn everything I could so I could pass on the information to my students. After I put my son to bed, I’d stay up late and read textbooks and journals and prepare for my lectures. I became passionate about dentistry. Most importantly, I became confident. I no longer felt like I wasn’t good enough. The more I learned, the more I loved dentistry.

I also went into public health. Funny how I’m still doing dentistry, like I was as an associate, but this time I enjoy it. What’s the difference? The patients. These patients need a lot of care and have few places to go. It gives me a lot of fulfillment that I can use my skills to help them. It brings me joy to teach them how to improve their oral health and value it.

It also makes me happy to help them beyond the dental chair through advocacy and oral health promotion. I successfully advocated to keep fluoride in our region’s water, I meet with politicians to improve funding for public dental programs and I do oral health presentations to community groups. Not only did I get involved in helping the public, I also got involved in helping my profession.

I volunteer for my local, provincial and national dental associations and became president of my local dental society. Being involved makes me feel like a more complete dentist. It makes my world bigger than a tooth. I no longer feel alone. I no longer feel unheard. I can share my voice and be the voice for others. Being around other dentists makes me a happier one.

Figure out what makes you happy

Now, I mentor new dentists. I can see which ones are unhappy, just like I had been. The first dentist I mentored quit. I was upset, not only because I felt like I failed her as a mentor, but also because it reminded me of how close I had been to ending my own career.

On the flipside, I mentor some dentists who are so passionate about dentistry that it makes me love dentistry more. The biggest compliment I got was from a new dentist who said he was unhappy as an associate, and that I showed him that there is much more to dentistry than working in the mouth. The main thing I share is that the hardest thing about dentistry is finding what makes you happy and then doing it.

So, what makes you happy? Are there certain patient groups you love caring for? What procedures do you like the most? What type of practice environment do you feel most comfortable in? And then there’s the opposite question: What are the things you hate the most about dentistry?

Do more of the things you like while eliminating the things you don’t. Maybe you’ll stop doing certain procedures. Maybe you’ll want to learn a new one. Maybe you need to work with different people. Maybe you should work in a different type of office. Maybe you want to work fewer hours—or even more. Maybe you’ll quit or maybe you’ll do something related to dentistry. Maybe you’ll make less money, but for certain you’ll be more content.

And maybe you want to obtain joy in our profession outside of your office. Join your local dental association. Get involved in community service. Advocate for the profession and the public. Connect with the dental community. Create something that will make our lives better.

Do the hard thing: Find out what makes you happy and do it. Then see how easy your life will be.

Author Bio
Sanjukta Mohanta Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta is a general dentist practicing in a publicly funded dental clinic in Brampton, Ontario. She graduated from the University of Toronto Faculty of Dentistry in 1999. She volunteers with the Canadian Dental Association, the Ontario Dental Association and the Halton-Peel Dental Association. Email:, Instagram: @drsanjmohanta.


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