AAE member Dr. Sonia Chopra is Diplomate of the American Board of Endodontics, practice owner of Ballantyne Endodontics in Charlotte, N.C, accomplished author and mom. The AAE’s communications team recently caught up with her to learn more about her experience during the COVID-19 pandemic and to learn more about her upcoming book.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what motivated you to become an endodontist.
I often tell people I’m the ultimate dental patient. I was born without eight teeth and have experienced it all: fillings, root canals, extraction, braces, implants, bridges, grafts and veneers! It was my own experience with debilitating tooth pain and the relief provided by an endodontist, who had been referred to me, that inspired me to become an endodontist.
Can you tell us about your experience during this period known as “the new normal”?
I’ve been doing okay. Like so many of my colleagues and people across the country, I’m trying my best to make ‘it’ work. I’m very fortunate that my children were able to safely return to school and that their schools are following distancing protocols, limited class sizes, mask wearing and more. I’m proud of how our local school districts are responding and admire our educators. It was really challenging to juggle at home learning with running a practice.
In addition to changing how I did things in and around the practice, I had to change how we did things on the home front. I’m an endodontist – not a teacher – and my kids certainly weren’t as excited learning from me when compared to seeing their favorite teachers or having that classroom experience. Now, things have sort of stabilized.
Looking back on those months, my family (and practice staff) had to band together to support ourselves and each other…Our relationships have strengthened, become even tighter and continue to.
My husband and I are both dentists and our social life has definitely changed too. Many of our friends are apprehensive about even a socially distanced visit with us since him and I are quite literally in peoples’ mouths — which I understand. We have been doing Zoom nights with them. As dentists, we take extra care to protect ourselves, patients and staff. We’re following all the guidance from the AAE, ADA and CDC.
Reflecting on that, I’m so fortunate for the many blessings I have. This pandemic continues to test us and I think we’re becoming more resilient because of it — especially my kids. They’ve taken to returning to school quite well. They have adapted to the new normal of having to wear a mask to prevent the spread and so on. It’s really worth repeating how proud I am of my kids, their school and my practice staff.
Can you tell us more about your access to PPE?
Early on, when the virus was starting to become known in the U.S., I proactively worked with my team to secure and purchase bulk items like gowns, N95 masks, single use instruments and tools that we could safely disinfect and reuse. Even on the home front, I made sure to stock up on food, soap and disinfectant/household cleaners. I didn’t go overboard with the toilet paper, but I was concerned about making sure I had the items needed to support my family, patients and office.
At the time, I thought that the supply and production would keep up with the demand. Unfortunately, and currently, this isn’t the case. We have access to masks, but it’s become increasingly difficult to order things like CaviWipes.
I’m really blessed to be a part of a great local dental community too. They really came together to support one another; GPs were pooling their resources. Pre-pandemic, I’d send my referring dentists gifts like a tray of cookies to express my appreciation. Now, it’s masks to make sure they’re prepared and feel safe to return to work.
Switching gears, you recently wrote a book. Can you tell us more about it?
My book is called Tooth Wisdom: The Empowered Patients Guide to Saving Your Smile. The idea originated about three years ago when I started a blog about endo. The blog was really targeted at the general dentist and focused on what I refer to as “tooth stories” — things I’d see and want to share with the dental community. I started to create so much online content and receive so many positive emails and inquiries from dentists and patients that a book seemed like the next logical step.
Now more than ever, people are doing their own research on treatment options available and this book is meant to help educate them. It is also meant to increase awareness about the work me and other endodontists do to save teeth and relief patient pain. Part of the book is also meant to help patients become better advocates for their own oral health. As we know, the mouth is literally the gateway to our bodies.
Your experiences are quite inspirational! You mentioned earlier it was your own endodontist who inspired you. Who are some other people who have inspired you?
My mom has definitely been an inspiration. She’s an anesthesiologist. She was born, raised and went to med school in India. Then, immigrated here with my father – who also came here to attend med school – with just eight dollars in their pockets.
She had to re-do all her education and training in America. My mom was the first “Dr. Chopra.” She really broke the mold in India and here. She was so determined to come to the states, she fudged her birthdate on the paperwork so she could come here and get into school sooner. She’s just worked so hard and taught me the value of hard work. She also instilled in me the value of being a strong, independent person. My mom really taught me to stand on my own two feet.
As I mentioned earlier, my endodontist also changed my life. The way he treated me and his demeanor really impacted me. As an endodontist now, my all-time hero is Dr. Marga Ree. She’s one awesome female endodontist. She’s so artful and delicate with how she can take apart and put teeth back together. Her inspiration has helped me shine as an endodontist. Her and my mom continue to inspire me.
Is there anything you’d wish to share with members and patients?
I’ve never been more happy or proud to be an endodontist. Number one, it’s the safest specialty in dentistry. Second, it’s also one of the most essential. I couldn’t close my practice if I wanted to during this pandemic. Patients depend on me and my staff to treat their tooth pain and other dental emergencies. Third, I’m excited that the rubber dam is starting to really get the respect it so rightfully deserves because it’s such an effective protector!
It protects patients, against sodium hypochloride, or an instrument from falling in the mouth. Of course, it’s a great protector for dentists and can act as another mask for patients. I want members to know (and patients): I feel super safe, and it’s safe to seek dental care from a dentist or endodontist.
Tooth Wisdom: The Empowered Patients Guide to Saving Your Smile is currently available online at https://soniachopradds.com/tooth-wisdom/.