There’s nothing Dr. Sandra Kim loves more than seeing a child hop out of the dental chair with a big smile on their face after their appointment.
Dr. Kim is one of our dentists here at Mary’s Center, and for her, it’s not just about the teeth. She looks at the whole child and wants to make sure her patients have all their health needs taken care of, physical, emotional, and social.
Luckily, Mary’s Center makes that easy with our Social Change Model that combines healthcare, social services, and education under one roof. Dr. Kim truly embraces the Social Change Model, always looking for ways to support her patients beyond their oral health by referring them to any of our services and programs right down the hall.
In honor of National Children’s Dental Health Month, we caught up with Dr. Kim recently to learn more about her journey to dentistry, why she loves working with kids, and why dental hygiene is crucial to children’s health.
Why did you become a dentist?
Growing up in South Korea, I always knew I wanted to help others through medicine. My dad was a doctor and our house was connected to his clinic, so I got to see him helping many patients. When we moved to the U.S. when I was 11, I got interested in science and was fascinated by how our bodies work.
My pastor at the time introduced me to dentistry, and I quickly discovered that teeth are amazing! They seem to come out of nowhere, but it’s all programmed from birth so that our first set of teeth come in by age 2, and a few years later we get our adult teeth. Those teeth serve us for the rest of our lives, making it possible for us to eat and speak.
I learned that when people have problems with their teeth, it can cause a lot of pain, shame, and even lead to other health complications. I wanted to be a dentist to help restore people’s teeth so they can live their lives with a proud smile, free of all discomfort.
What do you like most about working with kids?
Kids are so funny, and they really open up and tell you about what they’re experiencing, what makes them anxious, and what they hope for the future. I don’t have kids of my own, but I like to think I adopt my young patients for 30 minutes during their appointments to listen to them and encourage them.
A lot of my patients don’t speak much English, so I reassure them by sharing my own immigration story and the challenges I faced learning English when I was their age. For my Spanish-speaking patients, I tell them that for this whole appointment, they can only speak English and I’ll only speak Spanish, and yes, we’ll make mistakes, but we can laugh together and learn together.
Some of the kids I see have been through so much trauma already in their short lives, and the pandemic has only added to their stress. Children need support in so many areas beyond just oral health, but sometimes they have no one else to talk to. By building trust and having these conversations, I can find out what’s going on and help them or connect their families to other services.
Being there for these kids and giving them the confidence to go after their dreams is one of my favorite parts of my job.
Why is it important for kids to have a regular dental cleaning?
Tooth decay is the most common chronic disease for children and adolescents. By the time kids reach kindergarten, 40% already have cavities. Regular dental exams and cleanings are essential to help prevent cavities and gum problems, which can lead to pain, inflammation, and infection.
Dental exams/cleanings also make sure kids are able to:
- chew their food easily to ensure overall health and growth
- speak clearly by early detection of problems that will cause speech impediments
- smile with confidence to promote self-esteem
What should kids expect when they come to Mary’s Center for a cleaning?
When you come in with your child, one of our friendly dental assistants will greet you and bring you back to a dental working space.
Most visits start with an exam by the dentist, who will examine pictures of your child’s teeth taken by the dental assistant, look at their bite and teeth spacing, check for cavities, and examine their gums. The dentist will go over the exam findings with you, discussing any treatment plans or referrals to specialists if needed, and they will answer any questions.
Then the dental hygienist will begin the cleaning, which includes removal of plaque and tartar, flossing, polishing, and fluoride treatment. The hygienist will also review any oral health instructions or recommendations. The whole visit should take no more than an hour.
Before you leave, we’ll make sure you schedule the next visit in 6 months, and we’ll give your child a new toothbrush to keep those teeth clean!
Dental services for the whole family are available at Mary’s Center’s Fort Totten and Petworth locations in DC, and our Silver Spring location in Maryland. We accept most insurance plans, including Medicaid. We also have a sliding scale if you don’t have insurance.
Make an appointment today by calling 1-844-796-2797 or filling out an online form here.