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Monday 13 December 2021 8:32am

Suneil J. C. Nath (Jason) image
Suneil J. C. Nath (Jason) came to Otago on a Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Manaaki NZ Aid Scholarship.

Suneil J. C. Nath (Jason) says paediatric dentistry is an immensely rewarding career with the potential to have a lasting impact on young people's health.

“As paediatric dentists we need to love what we do. The beauty of paediatric dentistry is that it's not confined to one speciality and requires collaboration with multidisciplinary medical and dental teams. This is the uniqueness of the profession - you are continually working with colleagues from various specialities to provide oral healthcare for a phenomenal patient group.”

“We are looking after our future generations. And how we treat our patients is an experience that translates into their adulthood and will affect their health seeking behaviour.”

Jason graduated with a Postgraduate Clinical Doctoral Degree in Paediatric Dentistry on 11 December after completing an intensive three-year graduate course undertaking patient care as well as completing a research project equivalent to a PhD thesis.

Jason says it is a good career path, with huge personal satisfaction for those who are suited to it.

It's an intensive three-year graduate course, with students undertaking patient care as well as completing a research project equivalent to a PhD thesis.

The Otago Faculty of Dentistry receives patient referrals from medical practitioners, private dental practices, and the community oral health services. During his programme of study Jason has provided patient care in the Faculty's clinical facilities and theatre suites with patients under oral sedation and general anaesthetic. He's also provided on-call dental services for emergency patients after hours at Dunedin Hospital.

“We have a very special group of patients - the most challenging and the most vulnerable of them all. We must anticipate any possible problems pre, peri [during] and post -operatively and must adapt and make quick decisions to help the child get a positive experience at the dental clinic. We also treat children and adolescents with anxiety, disabilities and special healthcare needs.”

Working with autistic children and adolescents who have communication and sensory processing disorders has been very humbling for Jason.

“These children and their parents can teach you how to re-energise yourself and take on any challenge in life. Communication with the patient and especially their parents is a very important skill.”

One success story was when an autistic patient who always received dental exams on the support person chair was able to sit independently on the dental chair and receive routine exams and cleaning. He went on to receive comprehensive dental care under general anaesthesia and was a “very happy young man at the review appointments”. His parents have acknowledged how Jason established a rapport with the family and undoubtably made a lifelong impact on their son's oral and general health and wellbeing.

“We are looking after our future generations. And how we treat our patients is an experience that translates into their adulthood and will affect their health seeking behaviour,” says Jason.

The parent of a child Jason has treated says: “Jason is an amazing dentist with a unique ability to connect with children. We have been under very regular check-ups due to my son Freddie's cancer treatment, and Jason's kind and cheerful manner have meant Freddie actually looks forward to his dental appointments.  I feel quite inspired by his dedication and honoured to have been a very small part of his Otago journey.”

Alongside this work with patients, Jason's research project has been in dental decay (caries).

“We know that dental decay remains a widespread dental condition affecting children and adults and their quality of life. Dental decay in its initial stages can be reversed. Historically, preventative programmes have been based on the use of fluorides. My research focus has been on the use of selected self-assembling peptides that can be used to reverse and remineralise the initial decay that has occurred in the mouth. These peptides are present during teeth formation and disappear once the teeth mineralises and matures. The peptides have long chains of amino acids, and various lab-based research projects are being undertaken to shorten these chains while maintaining their functional domains, so that a practical and cost-effective product could translate into clinical application. Currently there is one product that is commercially available in the European and US markets. There is currently one product that is commercially available in the European and US markets. It's a relatively new area of research in dentistry allowing minimal intervention and a cost-effective approach to treating dental decay.”

It's been a lot of hard work but, as Jason says to future clinical doctoral students: “It will eventually be done with dedication and the support of your supervisors!”

Jason is still open to what the future holds. The post-thesis stage still seems a bit unreal after all the hard work and focus. Jason is grateful for the Manaaki (NZAID) scholarship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade that has supported him to do this programme.

Jason is passionate about teaching and serving Pacific communities, and doesn't see himself as a private practitioner, “I can make a contribution by providing service to the community, and in research and teaching. I would love to keep a balance as a clinician as well as a young academic who could get mentorship from more experienced senior academics, collaborate and build a research profile.

“Academia provides me with the opportunity to interact with students at the university, I particularly like working with young adults finding their way – just like me. I enjoy challenging them in the clinical and classroom settings, ensuring that they provide safe care for their patients while maintaining their health and wellbeing.”

In his experience as a student Jason says the International Student Support team have been very helpful: “From enrolment to completion they have been very supportive, they check on your welfare. They've been great throughout the COVID-19 period and provided the best possible student support to prevent any delays during the pandemic – they've been amazing.”

Jason also acknowledged the support from the academic staff members at the Faculty of Dentistry. “The consultants genuinely care and dental assistants are amazing at what they do. Paediatric dentistry can be demanding, and the dental assistants have been great mentors for me. They are with you when you see patients, so they really help you out with building confidence and managing patients as well as their families.”

Jason is also grateful to his supportive parents and friends. While Jason's parents aren't in medical careers, they are very supportive and proud. His older brother has been his role model as a pharmacist in Australia and his sister is a medical doctor specialising in nuclear medicine in London.

And finally in his acknowledgements, Jason says: “Last but certainly and most definitely by no means least, I want to thank my patients and their parents. I have learnt so much from them. I would encourage anyone interested to apply into the programme but you must maintain the smile on your patient's face.”

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