As a little girl growing up in an extended Indian family in the African nation of Zambia (formerly Rhodesia), Dr Anita Madhav learned the importance of sharing and caring from her father. The oldest of several siblings, her dad always looked after his family and friends and passed on the same values to his children. With so many aunts and uncles watching out for her, it’s no surprise one of her father’s brothers noticed how studious she and her sisters were and encouraged her dad to send them to college in the U.S. to give them more career choices and better opportunities.
In 1988, Dr Madhav left her home in Lusaka, Zambia to pursue her education in Oklahoma. She completed her undergraduate degree at South Western Oklahoma State University, and then enrolled at the Oklahoma University College of Dentistry. She also completed the highly selective Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency program, which gave her the opportunity to treat patients with diverse needs. Subsequently she and her husband moved to Plano, Texas, where she opened a private practice in 2000. Here Dr Madhav reflects on her more than 20 years in private practice and offers thoughts on the future of dentistry.
Q Was it a huge culture shock for you to move from Africa to Oklahoma?
Actually, no. Before Zambia got its independence it was a British colony, so our upbringing there was like growing up in England. Because our TV programs were re-runs from the U.S., I already had a fair amount of insight into U.S. culture before I came here. My sisters and I all used to watch the TV series Dallas as kids! Plus, I’m pretty outgoing so I had no problems making friends when I got to Oklahoma.
Q When did you first think you might like to be a dentist?
It wasn’t until the second semester of college that I started thinking of what career I wanted to pursue. It was really more about considering what I didn’t want to do that led me to the path of dentistry. I knew I did not want to be in a hospital environment, and I don’t do well in corporate settings because I don’t do well with others telling me what to do. I did want to do something in healthcare because I enjoy taking care of people. At one point I considered optometry, but during an eye checkup—while the optometrist was asking ’Is this better, or that? This or that?’—I just thought, “Forget that! This would be such a boring profession!” I then went to a dental school for a tour and realized I could see myself doing this—and that is how I ended up in dentistry. After I applied during my sophomore year of undergraduate school, OU College of Dentistry actually accepted me to dental school without yet having an undergraduate degree.
Q What is your favorite part about being a dentist?
One of my favorite things is changing people’s lives by changing their smiles. I’ve seen shy girls who used to cover their mouths while talking turn into confident young ladies who are smiling and laughing all the time. That is incredibly rewarding. And, I love my patients. They come to me because they want to and not because of some insurance plan. I have many long-term patients who have become like family. I am incredibly lucky in that regard.
Q You’re a twin, and your twin is a dentist too! Do you and she share “twin ESP?”
We definitely have that kind of twin telepathy—just the other day I was out shopping to buy scrub caps for my office. I got a call from my twin sister about two hours later in which she tells me about some scrub caps she found on Amazon. I had never mentioned to her I was looking for them! Another time I walked into her house and saw the exact same artwork I have in my house. We buy the same items like dresses all the time individually without ever talking about it.
Q What are your interests outside of dentistry?
Traveling, gardening, cooking and learning. I love to learn; I am always learning new things that will help me grow as a person, whether that is through watching webinars or listening to audiobooks. My favorite pastime is gardening, and especially perennial gardening because I love to see things grow and mature over time. I get excited when a perennial that has been dormant all winter starts to bud at the beginning of spring. It brings me so much joy. I also love to entertain guests and cook for all my friends when we have get-togethers. I’m a vegetarian by personal choice, but my siblings, parents and most of my friends are not, so I end up cooking both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes for the same meal.
Q When did you join your local study club and why?
Five years ago. I was at the right stage in my life where I wanted to meet different people. My children were a little older, so I was willing to travel for CE if needed, and I could commit more time to learning about the field of dentistry.
Q What has been your experience in your study club?
It has been phenomenal. I have met so many people who are just as passionate and caring about dentistry as I am. The Seattle Study Club especially has a unique set of individuals who are very willing to help other dentists, and even at Symposium they are open to sharing the knowledge they have instead of being competitive. Our local study club director Dr Wallace has done a great job building a community of dentists in Dallas. He keeps everything fun and engaging and I always look forward to our meetings and social events.
Q I understand you went back to work last week after being closed for more than two months due to the coronavirus. How was your first day back at the practice doing a procedure?
The first week I did not schedule any procedures. I just had hygiene and I was focusing on just monitoring the flow of the practice and being able to answer any patient or team questions. That made it much less stressful. The first patient procedure was Friday, May 22. Fortunately that was a fantastic patient who was very understanding, but there was a learning curve—my loupes and light kept pushing my face shield off so ultimately I had to take the shield off and just go with my N95. I need to perform the best dentistry I can and if the PPE is hampering that, it has to go. The thing that annoys me the most about doing dentistry with all this garb on is that I can’t smile at my patients. I need to figure out how to connect with them and communicate without violating social distancing before the procedure. Also, we used to do a lot of things to comfort our patients that we can’t do now, like blankets and headphones. I don’t want to give up on that kind of patient experience, but obviously we can’t do it the same way we used to. I’m working on creating a new model for the patient experience.
Q Would you want either of your kids to go into dentistry?
Only if they are passionate about it. I think it has been a fantastic profession; if they choose to, it would be marvelous, but that is entirely up to them.
Q What do you think the future holds for dentists?
I think the dentists who provide high quality, caring service and keep up with the latest technology will do well. I am not too sure about the large corporate dental practices because as patients educate themselves on infection control after this pandemic, they might prefer private practices that follow very strict infection control protocols and provide a very high level of customer service. Going forward, it is not going to be about the cheapest dentistry, it is going to be about the safest dentistry.
Q How have you been staying sane during the quarantine?
I’ve been working in the garden and doing a lot of baking. I had some girlfriends over one morning for brunch and we all wore masks and stood six feet from each other…until the lemon blueberry scones came out of the oven! They were a hit. I have the recipe if you want it.
Anita’s Cream Scones with Blueberries and Lemon Zest
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon table salt
- 1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ½-inch pieces
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ⅓ fresh or frozen blueberries (see note below)
- Optional: Lemon 🍋 zest (see note below)
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.
- Sift first 5 ingredients into large bowl, or measure into work bowl of a food processor fitted with steel blade; pulse until blended. With pastry blender, 2 knives, or steel blade of a food processor, cut or process butter into flour mixture until mixture resembles coarse meal with a few slightly larger butter lumps. Transfer to a medium bowl and add blueberries.
- Make a well in the center of mixture and pour in heavy cream and eggs. Working quickly, add blueberries and blend ingredients together with a rubber spatula into a soft, slightly wet dough. Turn dough onto a well-floured work surface.
- Quickly roll dough to 1/2 inch thick circle. Use a lightly greased and floured knife to cut dough into wedges. Dip knife in flour as often as necessary to keep dough from sticking. Place dough wedges 1 1/2 inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake until scones are lightly brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Serve immediately.
You can substitute blueberries with:
- Orange 🍊 zest and chocolate chips (my children love this)
- Raisins and walnuts
- For something more savory, cheese and chopped jalapeño peppers