Michael Yoo, a D3 at Western University College of Dental Medicine in Pomona, California, on mentoring, nonmaterial success and being present at the creation of silver diamine fluoride.
WHY DENTAL SCHOOL?
My mom lost her front teeth when I was young, and I watched her feel embarrassed and seclude herself at home. I wanted to do things for people like her who weren’t able to get to the dentist. That’s why I want to focus my time on public service.
You’re vocal in your posts online about your path to a career in dentistry and your desire to mentor others. What sparked that?
I come from Alaska, and education isn’t a top priority there. I went to the University of Washington, and I thought I knew what it would take to get into dental school, but I didn’t have a mentor. I’m the first doctor and dentist in my family. I want to help other students who don’t have guidance, and YouTube seemed like the best option to share tips. The amount of support and encouragement has been astounding. Outside of social media, some classmates and I started Lucent Dental, a nonprofit organization to help Pomona. Every other weekend we provide oral-hygiene kits to the community.
What’s a cherished example of an impact you’ve made on a patient?
Western University is known for community service; we have a mandatory community-based oral health center rotation. During this time, I saw a 7-year-old who came into the office afraid.
I started by giving him a glove and showing him my instruments to get him comfortable. By the end of the appointment, he was telling me he wanted to become a dentist.
My definition of success is not how much money I can make, but how many people I can lift up.”
What are your plans for after dental school?
I want to go back to Alaska to work through the Health Resources and Services Administration in underserved areas. I’d also like either to start a new nonprofit or continue my YouTube page from Anchorage. My definition of success is not how much money I can make, but how many people I can lift up.
How has the pandemic affected school?
In a way, it has forced us to become more efficient. Pre-Covid we had two sessions within a day, but now the time has been reduced and a third slot has been added. The learning curve was steep going into the clinic from D2 to D3 years, but overall it’s been very positive. Western U. has done amazing things to keep us safe.
Do you have a favorite product?
Silver diamine fluoride. It was under production when I was at the University of Washington. The guy in the office next door was working on it at the time. It was cool to see where it started, and now I’m using it on patients.
What’s a key piece of advice for someone applying to dental school?
A dentist once told me, “It’s not a matter of if you get into dental school, but when.” I’ve shared that with a lot of potential students. The hard work they’re doing now is for the greater good of getting in. My No. 1 tip is not only to reflect on how much you’ve accomplished but how hard you’ve worked to get to this point as well.