“Dr. Sun’s passion in life is ‘dentistry.’” So states the bio on Dr. Victor Sun’s website. For Sun, who as of this August will have been practicing in Lindsay for 20 years, dentistry is an artistic pursuit. “It gives me the opportunity to recreate the natural anatomy of a tooth, to design and build a beautiful smile,” he says.
I’ve interviewed individuals who had passions for music, for baking, for sports, even for human-powered vertical flight and ice-resurfacing machines. I could understand every one of those passions. But dentistry?
Now I have no reason to doubt the statement. I’m a patient and have long admired Sun’s professionalism and the sense of flow — the complete absorption in what he’s doing that emanates as he moves among his four examination rooms.
And each month since becoming a patient I’ve been receiving email newsletters that include briefings on a range of dental matters — one month it’s tongue lesions and bruxism (teeth-grinding), another month Invisalign (an alternative to braces). He’s excited and wants us to be excited about what dentistry can do for us these days.
When we talk (by phone, of course, because at a physical distance is how we’re all communicating these days) I’m hoping to understand his passion. I also want to learn how he’s operating during the pandemic. At a time when we’re all being advised not to touch our faces, it’s hard to imagine a profession that’s more up close and personal.
A Passion for Dentistry
From the time he was small, Sun tells me, he’d wanted to be in health care. His undergraduate degree from University of Toronto was in human biology. After completing his DDS (Doctor of Dental Surgery) degree, he went on to a general practice residency at the University of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital. Only eight residents were accepted that year, and he was one of only two Canadians.
He found he loved to learn. A self-confessed “continuing education junkie,” he went on to pick up additional credentials. Asked about the disciplines, in addition to oral surgery, that particularly interest him he lists several specialties. When I ask what doesn’t interest him, he’s stymied for the only time in our conversation.
Even now, 25 years after that residency, Sun continues to complete seminars, workshops and courses. Most recently he finished a six-session program on early orthodontic treatment. (Apparently starting treatment as early as age 6 can eliminate the need to remove teeth later).
Back in November he travelled to the Dominican Republic for a four-day course on dental implant surgery. While there he provided free extractions, implants and gum surgeries for people in need. (He’s also, in the past, gone on dental missions in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and China.)
So, part of his passion for dentistry is sheer love of learning and a recognition of how much there is to learn.
A feeling of responsibility to keep on top of a rapidly changing professional landscape also accounts for his constant upgrading. The biggest change, to his mind, has been the advancement of technology.
“New technologies have allowed dentists to diagnose, treatment-plan, and execute treatments faster, better and with more precision” he says. “They’ve also allowed treatments to be done with greater comfort for the patients.” (Comforting news for those of us conditioned by distant childhood dental experiences to be fearful).
Dentistry in the Pandemic
On March 16, Dr. Sun sent out a message to his patients: “Due to the continued effort to ‘flatten’ the curve for the COVID-19 in Ontario, my office will remain closed for non-essential dental treatments.” In the same email he reassured us that the office would still be open for emergency dental services.
With his 12-member team of dental assistants, hygienists and receptionists temporarily laid off and receiving benefits, Sun has been on the phone, rescheduling appointments to the summer.
He’s also been responding to those emergencies. “There are four criteria for a dental emergency,” he explains: “trauma, bleeding, infection and pain that can’t be managed by over-the-counter medicines or antibiotics.”
In one emergency case, Sun removed an adult patient’s infected tooth. In another he’d repaired a youngster’s brace. It had come loose and was scratching the boy’s cheek; he couldn’t eat or talk.
There’s no question in Sun’s mind that the pandemic is going to change the way dentistry is practiced and he’s already started to make changes to ensure he’s ready.
He’s purchasing a high-quality medical-grade air filtration system and a plexiglass partition for the receptionists. He’s expecting even stricter requirements in disinfecting and PPE (an abbreviation nobody needs explained these days).
Social distancing will continue to be the norm. He speculates that instead of marshalling patients in a waiting room, dentists may have patients wait in their cars until staff text them then usher them straight into an examination room.
There’s no question that Victor Sun will continue to share his passion for dentistry (which I’m beginning to understand). Just a few days after our phone conversation I received this month’s e-newsletter, this one entitled “Home Remedies for Dental Emergencies During COVID-19.”
In case I develop a gum abscess, chip a tooth, lose a filling or have food trapped below the gumline, I have some strategies for temporary relief. (Tip: for a lost filling, a small piece of sugarless gum may be your best friend).