Sangita Murali: Advancing the lives of women dentists

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Timothy J. Kim Photography Photo: Timothy J. Kim Photography)

Sangita Murali is a national student representative of the American Association of Women Dentists, a group best known for its goals of advancing, connecting and enriching the lives of women dentists.

She is a graduating dental student and has been committed to addressing dental inequities throughout her four years at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. She is passionate around creating supportive environments to empower people from diverse backgrounds, including the South Asian, geriatric, and homeless women’s communities.

One of her favorite ways to foster excitement and literacy for science, technology, engineering and medicine (STEM) for girls from underrepresented communities has involved partnering with Science Club for Girls through the American Association of Women Dentists at Tufts.

Through a Saving Senior Smiles Massachusetts Dental Society (MDS) Foundation grant, Ms. Murali has collaborated with graduating dental students from Harvard and Boston University to provide oral health education under the mentorship of trailblazers in the dental field, Drs. Paula Friedman, Judith Fisch and Kadambari Rawal.

INDIA New England News: Please tell our readers about your work and what you enjoy most about it.

 Sangita Murali: As a dental student, I see fluctuations at both the prelude and tail-ends of life: a young woman struggling with methamphetamine abuse and severe tooth decay; an older man cancelling appointments, living fearful each day as a victim of domestic violence. In these instances, it seems like the only thing more amoral than enduring a sobering affliction is bearing it solo.

Over the past two years in the dental clinics at Tufts, what I have learned is that loneliness interferes with patient-centered care because it impedes on the ability of patients to want to maintain themselves which is at the core of what we do.

While my initial zeal for dentistry grew from a love for artistry and engineering, what I have most enjoyed about my daily work is being a positive advocate for patients, using the privileged information shared with me to help them combat loneliness and improve their oral and overall health during their visits.

INE: To which charitable, community and professional groups do you belong and why?

 SM: I have been involved as a member of the American Association of Women Dentists since my second year of dental school per a good nudge to join by my dental school “big sis” Meera Sahni who was vice president of our local organization at the time. What I really enjoy about this group is that in addition to working together in the community, relaxing together during a variety of social events, and mentoring each other in the clinics, we organize special forums where our talking points center on a range of themes from the responsibility women leaders have to help others to the role we have in carrying ourselves as strong, powerful women who are also doctors!

Sangita Murali Photo: Timothy J. Kim Photography)

By the same, the Indian Medical Association of New England has been a wonderful outlet for my involvement with our local community. As a dental student, I’ve had the opportunity to provide basic oral care information and screen attendees at India Day and at various Health & Wellness Expos under the guidance and encouragement of Drs. Neela Gandhi, Sonalika Rungta, Sapna Aggarwal, Manju Sheth,  Paul Mathew, Oni Kapasi and Sameer Kapasi. Meeting lots of different people at our events has helped me become more culturally competent as a dental provider and proficient in assessing oral health literacy so that I can use appropriate communication techniques catered specifically to the individual I am working with.

Prior to beginning the dental journey, I was selected as a Dean’s Research Scholar and focused my four-year research project on gaining a heightened understanding of the role of bioactive materials in preventative care under the guidance of Dr. Gerard Kugel of Tufts. I’ve presented our findings at the American and International Associations of Dental Research, the National Institute of Health, and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. Due to a great foundation built by the combination of research mentors, statisticians, and our incredible librarian network at Tufts, I am very grateful to have been selected as a recipient of Dr. Kistama Naidu’s multicultural award for the advancement of dental research, the Academy of Dental Materials award for excellence In scholarship in dental materials while pursuing dental studies, and the AAWD/Colgate student research award to promote an early career in research to help the improvement of oral health.

On May 16th, I look forward to being inducted into the Honos Civics at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine with an amazing alumni network of health professionals who share a meaningful commitment to civic life and social impact through our careers in oral health.

INE: What are your hobbies and interests?

 SM: I’ve always enjoyed writing. As a child, I observed my mom write poetry. It just seemed like something people did.

When I’m not in the lab setting denture teeth or making a night guard for my patients, you’re likely to find me browsing through the MLS for apartment rentals and condos for my friends. I’ve really enjoyed working as a real estate agent part-time during dental school to help pay for my living expenses.

When CorePower Yoga opened in Boston’s South End, it was life-changing for me. For the past two years, yoga has been a part of my daily routine — just like brushing twice a day and flossing is for me and my patients.

With Boston thawing out, I am very excited to return to the golf course and tennis courts again this summer. In Atlanta, I look forward to more opportunities to hit the course throughout the year (and hopefully watch my handicap drop in the process).

INE: In what way do you feel you have positively influenced or served the local community, your company/organization or professional field?

 SM: Boston is a very special place and the only area in the US with three dental schools in one city. I am grateful that I could help facilitate a tri-school network of dentists and dental students coming together over the years here in Boston due to the strong support of one of my favorite mentors in the field, Dr. Kadambari (Kady) Rawal of Boston University.

Over the recent months, Kady and I have enjoyed collaborating with Drs. Tamara Bailey Berg, Brittany Bergeron and Lauren Argüelles of the University of Florida to organize this year’s 2018 AAWD Annual Meeting’s Student Session. This session will be open to dental students from all over the country to attend. We’ve got some great speakers lined up and innovative networking opportunities throughout the weekend that we think everyone will really enjoy in Savannah later this year.

They say “talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships” and I have found that to be very true with the changes we’ve implemented over the years. It’s really amazing what we can accomplish when we come together as a team!

INE: What are your favorite books?

 SM: As a child, I loved everything Nancy Drew. She was bright, compelling and lived an exciting life — and on top of that, she drove a sweet sports car.

The Dalai Lama’s “The Art of Happiness” is an inspiring read. His wisdom is simple, practical and profound.

INE: Your favorite quotes?

SM: “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

“If you have good thoughts, they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” – Roald Dahl

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” – Helen Keller

“Only brush the teeth you want to keep.” – Dr. Seuss

INE: Who inspires you the most?

 SM: I am truly grateful for my father who makes great sacrifices each day so I don’t have to think about anything apart from education, staying healthy and serving the community around me. He has guided me for almost three decades now and has made me mentally ready for the world and its challenges. He has uplifted me and never made me feel sad despite the hardships he’s endured and feelings about them.

My father, Murali Rajagopalan, is my childhood hero and lifetime best friend whose life story attributes to my empathetic patient care approach and fuels my hustle each day.

INE: What core values do you try to live by?

 SM: Be humble, be teachable and always keep learning.

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