It’s safe to say that a trip to the dentist tends to be more disquieting than inspiring for most people. Observing his family dentist, however, helped set Edwin Tan on his current career path, as an orthodontist based in Melbourne. In our latest Spotlight feature, Edwin offers an enlightening and practical look into dentistry and the specialist field of orthodontics.
Edwin attended Lodge his whole life right up to Form 5, and regards these formative years as some of his best, with the lifelong friendships he formed at school. Lodge also laid advantageous groundwork for his tertiary studies: “It is only after leaving Lodge that I have come to understand the high level of education provided through both the national and international streams. Being taught in English in the afternoons definitely helped with transitioning abroad!”
In 2003, Edwin went on to study his foundation year in Melbourne, a decision partly influenced by knowing that some of his fellow ex-Lodgians were also headed in the same direction: “I felt that having friends from Lodge really helped with … settling into a new country and environment away from family.” After undertaking and completing his Bachelor of Dental Science at the University of Melbourne, Edwin was based in the rural town of Shepparton for two years. His work experience at the town hospital was an incredible learning curve for him:
This was a fantastic opportunity with great mentoring and experience – being able to perform all aspects of dentistry in a busy and supported environment from day one. It also offered several opportunities such as treating phobic children and patients under general anaesthetic, dealing with trauma scenarios as well as managing medically compromised patients. I must say that through the help of my mentors at the time, it really allowed the development of my skills as a dentist in a whole range of procedures, especially difficult extractions including the surgical removal of wisdom teeth as well as prosthetic rehabilitation of the mouth with the provision of full dentures.
It was around this time that Edwin decided to pursue orthodontics as his postgraduate specialty. He had always been partial to orthodontics as a field in which the lives of people could be changed through their smiles. He also attributes his interest to his family dentist in Kuching, who is a trained specialist orthodontist: “he probably indirectly planted the seed early on thus, after getting into dentistry, orthodontics was always at the back of my mind and something that I eventually worked towards.”
Edwin completed the primary exams required for application into dental postgraduate specialty courses, and after returning to Melbourne, where he worked at a private practice for a year, he applied for and was accepted into the Doctor of Clinical Dentistry course at the University of Melbourne, which he completed in 2013.
Currently, Edwin splits his time between Melbourne and Shepparton. Apart from clinic appointments, he also has a position at the Royal Dental Hospital of Melbourne, where he treats patients who often have very severe malocclusions, or bite and jaw problems. He also collaborates monthly with a team of oral surgeons to plan surgical corrections for patients with malalinged jaws. To add to all that, Edwin also lectures to graduate dental students at the University of Melbourne as well as demonstrates orthodontic treatment to them in the clinic.
It’s obvious that Edwin has found orthodontics fulfilling as a profession; he fosters connections with the patients he sees regularly for treatment, which might run from one to two years, and marvels at how their personalities can transform over the period, from shy children or teenagers to more confident and outspoken individuals. Seeing the looks on his patients’ faces after their braces are removed is a real highlight for him: “There was once when a patient’s mother cried after seeing her daughter, who had gone through jaw surgery, without braces for the first time, and that was really heart-warming.”
The ability to help people through his career is something Edwin is rightfully proud of. In his second year at Shepparton, he helped set up a domiciliary dental program aimed at bringing dental care to nursing home residents, as part of the hospital dental service. This is a large demographic greatly in need of dental care but for many reasons is unable to access it. Seven years on, Edwin is happy to say that the outreach service is still going strong.
Alas, like with most jobs, Edwin can’t get away from the paperwork: “you have to write a lot of letters to coordinate treatment with other dentists and specialists! Nonetheless, I still I feel very fortunate to be able to do what I do on a daily basis.”
Edwin points out that dentistry is not just about “drilling, filling and taking out teeth” as most people might perceive it to be, but encompasses the whole of “diagnosis, treatment planning, patient management skills such as dealing with anxious patients, treating young children and the elderly, as well as managing gum disease, root canal treatment, replacing missing or broken down teeth and minor surgical procedures including difficult extractions and dental implants.” Furthermore, orthodontics as a specialist field requires a skill-set quite different from that used in general dentistry. The work can also be quite fast-paced, and a busy practice might see anywhere between 60 to 100 patients a day!
Edwin hence emphasises that, while dentistry may be an attractive career option for the financial rewards it can bring, “there is also a lot of hard work, effort and stress that goes into it as well!” Dental treatment can be expensive, and perhaps there is the misconception that all the money goes into the dentist’s pockets. What many people tend to not realise is that the costs for running a dental business is very high, and includes the purchase of dental supplies, the costs of buying and regularly servicing dental equipment, dental laboratory fees, investment in the latest dental technology, staffing, and so on.
For anyone interested in dentistry as a career, Edwin suggests trying to shadow a dentist for a day or two if possible. It’s also a given that a dentist has to be skilled with their hands, and Edwin has observed that those who are artistic or good with their hands often find it easier to handle the clinical aspects of dentistry. This is a skill that can be learnt, and Edwin encourages aspiring dentists to train themselves to use their hands for delicate or skilled work as early as possible.
Edwin, thank you for taking the time to speak to us! You’ve given current Lodgians useful information to chew on, and we hope your evident dedication to your profession will be an inspiration to them.
Written by Jane Leong
Photos courtesy of Edwin Tan