From Toothaches to Triumph: A Story of Struggles and Success
Dentistry isn’t known as a women-dominated field; even now, women make up only 36.7% of dentists, according to the American Dental Association. But women are making their mark in the industry and are working on making the field more egalitarian.
My name is Dr. Sonia Chopra, and I was the first female board-certified endodontist (or root canal specialist) in Charlotte, North Carolina. I know so many other women dentists who are shattering the glass ceiling in dentistry.
I was always meant to be a dentist. I was born without eight teeth, and my childhood was filled with more visits to dentists than playdates with friends. It seemed like the dentist’s chair became my second home.
Through my early years, I had a difficult experience that opened my eyes to the urgent need for endodontic education for patients and dentists worldwide.
My parents spared no effort in seeking the best dental care for me, investing their time and money to book countless appointments for me to get a full set of teeth as I grew into adulthood. Yet, despite their endeavors, right at the time that I was about to go to college, I had a terrible toothache. My dentist couldn’t spot the root cause of my problem, and he referred me to other specialists around town. One provider even suggested the pain was all in my head, which felt extremely dismissive and made me feel like I couldn’t trust my perception of reality.
The dentist sent me to an oral surgeon in a last-ditch effort to relieve my pain. My oral surgeon was dubious about pulling my tooth, but he could see the pain I was in and the anxiety my parents had about my condition, so he went ahead with the extraction.
When the anesthesia wore off, I was horrified to discover that the pain was still there, and it was worse than ever! They had extracted a perfectly healthy tooth.
How I Found My Calling in Endodontics
My pain grew more severe, and the infection caused my face to swell up. Finally, I was referred to an incredible endodontist who became my beacon of inspiration. He was kind and listened to me, and he let me know that I could trust my body. The endodontist told me about the abscess in my mouth and explained that I needed a root canal to feel better. When the treatment was complete, my pain was totally gone, and it never came back. He had relieved me from pain and infection when no one else could. And I was able to save my natural tooth!
His personality and expertise inspired me to pursue dentistry as a career, and later I specialized in endodontics. I firmly believe my life would have taken a different path if I hadn’t had this experience.
This incident opened my eyes to the immense value of dental specialists, particularly endodontists. Endodontists are tooth savers and healers who help people get out of pain without sacrificing their natural teeth. We can be a ray of hope with our specialized knowledge, technology, and skills.
What Is It Like to Be an Endodontist?
The journey of becoming an endodontist isn’t easy. After we earn our bachelor’s degree, we attend dental school and become a dentist. Then, we can attend a residency program to become an endodontist.
Endodontists specialize in root canals and other tooth-saving endodontic procedures. We are healers and tooth savers! And thanks to anesthesia and modern-day technology like the GentleWave procedure, root canals are typically not painful. In fact, they relieve you of pain!
Endodontics, for me, is all about consistency, efficiency, and constantly improving my workflow. It’s all in the details. I believe in the power of progress and never settling for mediocrity, especially because I am working with patients, and they are entrusting me with their health. For me, dentistry is like a never-ending game that enhances my skills and optimizes my performance so that I can help my patients. Every day, I work hard to be better than I was yesterday. I love learning something new every single day, even after practicing as an endodontist since 2008! The daily challenges that come my way act as valuable lessons, teaching me to think on my feet and find innovative solutions to save teeth.
What Empowerment Means to Me
I believe that empowerment starts with ourselves and ends with the community. You can’t empower those around you when struggling with self-doubt. But, once you realize your potential and gain confidence, you can speak with the authority and knowledge needed to make a change in the world.
For me, I needed to become a competent endodontist before I felt that I was ready to teach my fellow dentists and patients about root canals. As I began instructing, I discovered that I knew more than I realized, and I had a lot of wisdom to share with my colleagues and peers. Now, I am on a mission to #GiveTeethAChance around the world.
In other words, true empowerment is not a solo act. Once you enjoy the beauty of personal empowerment, the next step is to spread the magic to the world. It’s like a dance between self-growth and societal transformation. And, even presently, I am working towards empowering my fellow community in all possible ways because everyone deserves a chance to save their natural teeth.
Being a Woman Entrepreneur in Dentistry
Although there is unmistakably a disparity between women and men in the field—particularly women of color, like myself—my gender doesn’t have anything to do with my capacity to be successful in dentistry. Women overcome more barriers in dentistry to be successful, but we are moving towards greater equality and diversity every year.
During my professional journey, I have personally encountered a number of obstacles and have faced discrimination. But at the same time, I have received unwavering support and mentorship from so many people. On my way, I met many people who trusted my abilities and determination and who helped me get to where I am today.
I am immensely grateful to all those who have played a meaningful role in shaping my journey thus far. Today, I aspire to pay forward the support I received from others. Through endodontic education, patient empowerment, and dental mentorship, I am helping break down barriers and fostering an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive.
Another aspect of this conversation I have been thinking about more in the last few years is feminine and masculine energy and how they both serve a role in success in entrepreneurship in every field. Despite their names, feminine energy is not exclusive to women, and masculine energy is not exclusive to men. Every person has the capacity to tap into both. In fact, I used to primarily lean on masculine energy, which is focused on doing, achieving, challenging, competing, and reasoning. I have been learning to embrace the feminine, which is about flowing, being, receiving, allowing, and emoting. Those who embrace their feminine energy and who prioritize personal growth are a constant source of inspiration to me.
The Journey Beyond Dentistry
I am a board-certified endodontist, TEDx speaker, and Forbes contributor, but I am still discovering what else I can do for myself and society. As a female dentist, I am helping create paths forward for other women in the field. Together with my team, I want to create a future where dentistry knows no discrimination or boundaries. Let’s rewrite the rules and build a world where nothing looks impossible—a world where success is defined by passion, dedication, and skill and where empowerment starts with building yourself and ends with empowering society.
Sonia Chopra, DDS, is a healer and tooth saver. She’s a board-certified endodontist, TEDx speaker, Forbes contributor, author, endodontic instructor, and founder of Ballantyne Endodontics in Charlotte, North Carolina.
On top of running her thriving practice, Dr. Chopra provides groundbreaking digital education and community support to general dentists and endodontists who want to uplevel their technical skills, patient experience, and practice efficiency. Through her thoughtfully-designed courses and in-person programs, such as her award-winning E-School, she is revolutionizing endodontic continuing education through the simple, tangible lessons rooted in her own diverse experience.
Learn more at soniachopradds.com, or follow her on Instagram at @soniachopradds.