Sunjay the star student

Sunjay Parekh was named the winner of the 2006 Wrigley’s Oral Health In Action Student Award. This year, the organisers asked dental students, student hygienists and student therapists across the UK to put their thinking caps on and design an information leaflet for elderly patients.

The handout had to feature key oral health messages for this age group presented in an accessible style. The British Dental Association (BDA) supports the award and the winning student receives £1,000. The dental school the student attends also receives a further £1,000 too. The judges particularly liked Sunjay’s ‘eye-catching’ leaflet design and the ‘spectacular imagery’ he used.

Sunjay is a fifth-year student from Sheffield dental school. We asked him about his ambitions, his views on the industry’s future and what winning the award means.

Why did you choose dentistry?

I had an interest in science and knew I wanted to do something science related. I thought about biochemistry, but then found myself drawn to dentistry. Considering my only knowledge of dentistry came from visiting the dentist myself, I think its fair to say that I took a bit of a gamble.

Why did you choose Sheffield?

I visited Sheffield on an open day and really liked the city. It seemed to have a lot of friendly people and a nice atmosphere. The dental school was quite new and they also had plans to expand it in the future.

How did you find your first few years on the course?

The first year I found very difficult, which was funny because I thought that would be the year that I enjoyed the most because we were studying basic sciences. I really struggled. However, as soon as we started clinical work I turned the corner. I really found it enjoyable and haven’t looked back. I feel lucky considering the risk I took with dentistry. I’ve not regretted following this career path and don’t think biochemistry would have been for me.

What parts of dentistry do you enjoy most?

I really like restorative dentistry and dental materials, so I think I must be a bit of a geek. I also enjoy dental public health and chose this area to base my elective on. For this I conducted a study investigating how cost affects patients’ decision making on treatment planning.

I visited the University of Toronto and spent time at their dental school comparing the systems they have there with the ones we use in Sheffield. My time there gave me a new-found appreciation for NHS dentistry. If you are poor in Canada you have to be very lucky to get treatment, whereas here you can get good quality care.

Is patient contact an enjoyable part of what you do?

Yes, definitely. Every time you meet a patient for the first time they’ll tell you that they hate dentists, so it is up to you to change their views. A lot of my medic friends think dentistry is all about giving people a fancy makeover, but it really can affect people’s lives. People can be really self-conscious about their teeth and we get to help them with that.

What’s next after dental school?

I haven’t made any fixed decisions yet but I’m hoping to do my Vocational Training (VT) and then work to get a job in a community practice. I spent some time working in the community through our outreach programme and really enjoyed it, so I think I may have found my calling.

Have you any concerns about the profession’s future?

Most students are worried about getting a VT place. You go through all your exams and work hard but there’s no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Dentistry is a growing profession so we should be okay, but it is a worry.

Tell us about the Wrigley Student Award?

The aim of the award was to design a leaflet containing oral health advice for elderly patients. I came up with a simple leaflet design, which had lots practical advice on the front and reverse.

I was aware that elderly people don’t like going to see the dentist very much so I wanted to give them lots of tips on how to brush their teeth, treat a dry mouth and check for signs of oral cancer.

What difference has winning the award made?

I won £1,000, which will make a big difference to my finances. I went to the BDA Conference for the first time for the award presentation, which was very nice and have a framed certificate that will go on the wall wherever I end up practising.

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