When Dr. Kadambari Rawal’s grandmother was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, dentists refused to see her. She was in her 80s, and dentists looked at her grandmother and decided she wasn’t worth the risk.
This broke Dr. Rawal’s heart. She grew up close with her family, in Mumbai, with her grandparents always around helping and babysitting.
“Even highly trained specialists said they didn’t want to take on a liability with multiple comorbidities in a dental chair,” Dr. Rawal said. “I’m not sure if it was a lack of confidence or training but it sounded like they — I hate to say they didn’t care enough — but they didn’t want to take that on.”
At the end of her life, one of her biggest problems were her teeth, Dr. Rawal said. She wasn’t able to eat, lost weight in the last few years because she wasn’t getting proper nutrition.
Dr. Rawal was already in dental school when she learned of the diagnosis and seeing the end of her grandmother’s life set her on a path toward geriatric dentistry, where she’s widely recognized as a leader in her field of expertise.
“I wanted to learn more about geriatrics because I felt it was unfair and I’m sure there are others like my grandmother not getting care they need,” Dr. Rawal said.
Boston University had a mandatory rotation in geriatric dentistry, where she visited a long-term care community and found her calling.
“It’s patient-centric dental medicine. It’s hospital-based yet you’re always conversing with other specialists to see what we can do for these patients in their 80s, 90s, even 100s too,” Dr. Rawal said. “To give them the best care, to make sure that in the last few years of their life they don’t have oral health problems, or at least they’re controlled and taken care of.”
Several years into her practice of dental medicine, Dr. Rawal realized that so much of her work was public health- and policy-based so she set to work on a second residency in dental public health at Boston University.
She focused her thesis on end-of-life dental care for patients and approached her public health study from the perspective of geriatric dental medicine.
She practices at two long-term care communities in Boston and the other two days a week she’s part of Boston University’s faculty practice where she’s been for 9 years, seeing patients and driving their treatment plans.
“It gives me the flexibility of having an academic appointment while being a full-time clinician,” she said. “I’m able to see my patients, to teach pre-doctoral and post-doctoral dental and medical students and spend my time doing adult and geriatric dentistry at long-term care facilities. I’m at a different location every day.”
Dr. Rawal is a recipient of the 2018 10 Under 10 award. Read more about the award at ADA.org/10under10.