Since I started walking, my feet were always on the move, trying to mimic the dancers I saw on television. When I was old enough for dance lessons, I enrolled in pre-ballet class, moving on to ballet, tap, hip-hop and jazz as the years went by. Dancing was a passion I discovered fairly early in life and, surprisingly, so was dentistry.
As a child, chronic ear infections made me fear medical professionals wearing white coats, but when I had my first dental checkup, my pediatric dentist put my mind at ease. There was something about her manner that instantly calmed me, and it was then I announced my desire to pursue dentistry. To me, there was something special about the gadgets she used to look inside my mouth.
I was continuously drawn to the field of dentistry. By middle school, I had what I referred to as a “crime scene of a mouth.” Officially it was known as bilateral peg lateral maxillary incisors and bilaterally impacted maxillary canines. As a result of mandibular crowding, I was told I would need a fixed retainer.
At age 12, I had the best summer ever: Disney World and oral surgery! I had teeth C and H extracted, and palatal flaps were made to reveal teeth #6 and #11 close to my sinuses. For my surgery, I refused general anesthesia so I could I stay awake and hear about each step of the procedure. The surgeon reluctantly agreed, and I was grateful for my fun time in the chair.
My orthodontist attached a gold chain to the teeth on my palate, linking the rest of my bracket setup. I named it “Cheryl” because it was six links long. Each month, they would remove a link and tighten the chain, causing a lot of pressure and tension in my mouth. Because it was diﬃcult to speak after these adjustments, I started to study ventriloquism (ask me about my puppet collection). When two chain links were removed, I renamed it “Cher,” and then learned all of her songs and performed impressions without moving my lips.
In addition to my new “talent,” I took up the flute and bassoon. I also acted in school musicals and local theater productions during the summer. My love of creative expression and appreciation for the arts continued to grow, culminating in me joining an improv troupe. From that experience I learned how to feel comfortable in clinic because improv comedy has no script and neither does interacting with patients. Both are about going with the flow and listening to your partner to create an enjoyable experience.
In high school, I still felt passionate about dentistry, so I participated in activities that might help me with fine detail work. Soldering and sawing in metal jewelry-making classes translated to characteristics of orthodontic work and pindexing. A flair for foreign languages also helped me during my Spanish, French and Italian studies. Being multilingual will be beneﬁcial in speaking to as many patients as possible and traveling the world on mission trips.
My time in college was spent becoming a certified Zumba instructor. It allowed me to practice wellness as I pursued my botany studies, which is a decision I am most proud of. I love plants, protists and fungi, and specifically enjoyed making the connection between plants and teeth both containing roots.
Through those years, I taught Zumba classes in between assignments and started histology research, using a TEM to look at the secretory glands of carnivorous pitcher plants. I am grateful for this research because histology portions of microbiology and pathology in dental school were much less intimidating.
Now that I am in dental school, I’m still actively involved in dance. Last year, I signed up for a tap class and participated in my first dance recital right after I finished my year as a D1 (my D2 dance recital is right around the corner). This past winter, I started to take pole-dancing lessons, and I hope to teach dance fitness soon. I resurrected my interest in playing the flute, even playing it between exams to alleviate stress.
Every journey is unique, and I like to think that I didn’t have to give up too much of myself in pursuing dentistry. A blend of personal interests and the right career choice is key to happiness and success. My goal is to practice dentistry by day and participate in performing arts at night. Whether it will be teaching dance, being cast in a musical or performing stand-up comedy, I can always find a new way to creatively indulge.
~Dana Bergenfeld, Stony Brook ’21, District Diversity and Inclusion Co-Chair, Chapter Gold Crown Awards Co-Chair