June 3, 2022
by Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta BSc. DDS
The only thing I did well in dental school was make a lot of friends. I was slow to pick up clinical skills. I never made the honour roll. I failed a course in first year. But making friends – that was the easiest part. It was also the best part.
My dental school experience was brutal. Each day I thought, “What will I be yelled at about today?” We were treated badly. We lived in fear. Instead of being encouraged, we were belittled. I was too afraid to ask a question or ask for help. By the end, I felt relieved – and broken.
The only thing that got me through those four years was my class. We spent our lunch hours complaining about instructors. We talked about how we got marks deducted for having a hair out of place or how we were berated in front of our patients. When we would see someone struggling in clinic, we would quietly help so the instructors wouldn’t see. We studied together and cried together. We shared notes, patients, words of encouragement and, best of all, laughs. As dental school made our confidence weaker, our friendship grew stronger.
After graduating in 1999, we went our separate ways. I struggled at the beginning of my career. The unhappiness I had in dental school extended into my dental career. I felt more miserable than I did in dental school because I was alone; my classmates weren’t by my side. I stayed in touch with a few of my close classmates, but it was hard. At the time we graduated, we didn’t have cell phones and social media, and emailing was just becoming a thing. We had a few small reunions and hoped to bump into each other at dental meetings.
Then 20 years later, I looked up all of my classmates online and invited them to celebrate our 20th class reunion in Toronto. It was incredible! We had more fun that night than at our graduation party. We talked about our marriages, divorces, kids, careers and, of course, our times in dental school. Many years had passed, but our connection was not broken.
We planned to reunite the following year, but then two months before we were supposed to meet, the pandemic hit. We didn’t know when we would be back at our offices or when we would see each other again. I created a WhatsApp group for our class and it felt like dental school again. We shared jokes, complained about restrictions, asked for advice and wished each other Happy Birthday. We celebrated our 21st reunion on Zoom talking about how we were spending our time in quarantine and wondering about our future.
Less than a year later, in our group chat, a classmate shared sad news. She was diagnosed with advanced cancer. Just like in dental school, when we saw a classmate struggling, we helped. We sent her a book filled with encouraging messages and prayers from each of us. While we were trying to help her, she helped us more. By being open about the most difficult time in her life and sharing her fears, she taught us that being vulnerable gives you strength. She taught us that to get through hard times, you have to lean on your friends.
Friendship – that’s how you share the good times and get through the tough times. Last month, we met in person to celebrate our 23rd reunion in Toronto and we are planning our 24th reunion in Vancouver. I am thankful to all of my classmates from the University of Toronto Class 9T9 for getting me through dental school and supporting me now. The best part of dental school was the friends I made.
About the Author
Dr. Sanjukta Mohanta, B.Sc. DDS. Dr. Mohanta graduated from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry in 1999. She practises general dentistry in Brampton, ON. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @drsanjmohanta.