Hi, I’m Dr. Yao; my colleagues and patients fondly refer to me as the Bubbly Dentist, because I would personally greet every patient at the reception with a huge smile before welcoming them to my room. I enjoy using technology to help my patients understand their oral condition and thereby improve self-care. I take DSLR photos and 3D scans of adults and children during appointments, for an interactive and visual experience. Armed with the right knowledge, our patients can help themselves and their families achieve a lifetime of dental health!
It’s a misconception that a group of women cannot help each other: During my postgraduate residency, I received some “words of wisdom” from our program director, a male dentist in his sixties, that “nurses don’t get along as well with female dentists”. In his experience, a group of women will have a much harder time getting along.
While I do not identify with his views, I do remind myself to be kind to the women I meet and to support our gender in ways I can. I make a point to have a pep talk with every new nurse hired, to share with them that I too, feel nervous and anxious at every new job. That it is normal to feel incompetent initially, but rest assured because, in a few months, they will be so experienced that they will be training new hires. And lastly, I remind them that success begets success. Once they successfully overcome this obstacle, they will have the confidence to take on bigger challenges.
Dentistry has come a long way from male-dominated to graduating dental school classes with approximately equal ratios in recent years. However, while gender bias is in some ways diminishing, one look at the list of names of the distinguished speakers at any given conference will quickly prove that we, as women, have a long way to become equally important as leaders in the field.
Perhaps women don’t seek leadership positions because it is not connected to our self-esteem or because we don’t have time. Sometimes it could just be that we don’t let people know that we are interested. To quote prosthodontist Dr. Nancy Arbree, “Take and share credit. Say yes to new opportunities. Try it on for size. You can always go back.”
I try to actively contribute to the dental organizations, and I am always thrilled to meet like-minded young female dentists on the committees. We may be young in the profession, but we may be role models and not know it—to someone we don’t even know.
My mentors: I have met many (mostly male) mentors who have encouraged me to seek greater challenges, to take on leadership roles, to strive to be the best. Even at times when I felt I was not ready for the role, they believed in me. They saw the potential in me when I did not. I am also grateful for the positive influence from my family, where women have equal education and income.
The lesson I learned, is a shift from thinking “I'm not ready to do that”, to thinking “I want to do that - and I'll learn by doing it".
I entered a lift one day and overheard a mom telling her little girl, maybe five, or six, “Just be yourself”. The little girl replied, “No I don’t want to be myself. I want to be a doctor.” As the doors closed behind me on my floor, I caught the little girl’s voice again, “Mommy, what kind of doctor do you think I should be?” At that moment, I silently applauded the mom for encouraging her daughter to be herself, and the little girl for earnestly articulating her dream.
Empowering women comes in many ways and forms, teaching girls their worth can create a ripple effect. Remind girls in your life that they are strong, capable, and deserving of the same respect as boys. Make sure they know they are more than their appearance: praise them for their intelligence, strength, leadership, athleticism and so much more.
Encourage girls to speak out and assert themselves. Counter-narratives and language that discourage them to do so: say they are “bold,” not “bossy.” Show them their thoughts matter by asking for their opinions and listening when they speak.
Recognizing that one’s gender should not restrict one’s narrative: If they have brothers, foster an environment where boys and men feel safe expressing their emotions too: let them know their feelings are valid and allow them the opportunity to share. Let them know that there is no wrong or right way to be a girl or a boy.
I hope we can all be who we are, and who we want to be.
To me, self-care is to know and satisfy what our body and mind need, and that requires a healthy dose of self-awareness. Self-awareness can be in the form of physical or spiritual; apart from physical activities, I picked up meditation over the last year, which was astonishingly not boring at all. Now I really enjoy giving my mind some quiet time using the Headspace meditation app. Ironically, my fav time to do so is on the noisy train ride to work!
Self-care is not only treating our bodies well but also treating our minds well. There is increasing awareness regarding negative self-talk. However, like any long-term habit, our inner dialogue can be challenging to reshape. We may even get frustrated with ourselves for criticizing ourselves.
A good reminder is this, “Consider the emotional quality of your mind today. Remember that there is no right or wrong.” Being aware is just to gently pay attention to our mind’s chatter, “We might not always like what we find in the thinking mind. But no matter what we discover, there’s no need to add guilt to it.”
I’m constantly reminding myself that: our stands and opinions will change with time, therefore, we should be as open-minded as possible to different opinions and options. Quite simply, “never say never”!
Dr. Yao is a dental surgeon at Pure NZ Dental. She is passionate about patient education and empowerment. She believes that when patients have the right knowledge, they can make informed decisions and optimize their own oral health. Her mission is to help her patients achieve a "Lifetime of Dental Health".
She grew up in Singapore and obtained her Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) from the University of Minnesota, United States. She then completed an Advanced Education in General Dentistry with the New York University Langone Hospitals in Maui, Hawaii. She is fully licensed in both California, USA and Singapore. Dr. Yao is Invisalign certified and treats both children and adults. She strongly believes in building confidence and personal relations with her patients and staff in a people-centered environment.
She is currently a committee member on the Singapore Dental Association Continuing Professional Education Committee, and the College of General Dental Practitioners Singapore Continuing Dental Education Committee.
In her spare time, Dr. Yao enjoys proprioceptive activities, which strengthens our conscious capacity to sense position, movement and force of body segments. You may find her dancing, rock climbing, weightlifting, or getting bullied by her family on the badminton court!
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
This series is part of our International Women's Day piece where we catch up with amazing GOYA women to share about their career stories, challenges and advice for anyone developing their careers.
In the month of March, we have also joined hands with local NGO SEVA SEED that aims to empower young women from underprivileged countries. Checkout with code IWD21SEVASEED, and GOYA will donate 3 reusable sanitary pads to women in underprivileged countries. On top of the donation, you will also receive 10% off all GOYA apparel this month.