We’ve all heard of the saying ‘doing it for the love of the job,’ well this couldn’t apply more than to super dentistry student turned European Dental Student Representative and part-time Calendar Girl, Imogen Bexfield. Whilst most people spend years just trying to make it out the other side of their degree alive, Imogen lives, breathes and loves what she does and is already reaping the rewards with various successful dental projects under her belt and working partnerships with multi-national companies.
Did you always want to study dentistry? What is it about dentistry that got you interested in the first place?
I’ve always loved teeth and even used to take my toothbrush to school with me, but it was not until GCSE’s when everything seemed to come together and the idea of dentistry just clicked into place. I was drawn in by the glamour of the “perfect smile” and the transformation it can create.... and of course a winning smile is the first credential for the perfect man!
You were the initiator of the highly successful ‘Smile’ project, which piloted around campus in 2010. What was the aim of the scheme?
The key aim of the Smile Project is to provide oral health care and education to non-dental students in universities across the world. For the pilot project in Leeds we basically signed up people to have free dental check-ups and in the process raised the awareness of oral health by wearing fairy costumes and giving out free gifts to create a bit more of a buzz. People don’t often see their dentists as fun, real people, but in reality we party harder than anyone!
You personally secured sponsorships with global brands such as Oral-B, how difficult was it to single-handedly persuade a multi-national brand to support a student project?
At times it felt like a real uphill battle, especially because the Procter and Gamble representatives were based in Eastern Europe, which added the further complication of international communication to the mixing pot! I was so grateful for the support of P&G but with that came the added responsibility and pressure to do everything to the best of my ability and make the most of the opportunity given. There were definitely times during late night Skype meetings where the pressure to meet the required deadlines seemed like an impossible task, but looking back I would not have had it any other way. The enormity of the project really sunk in when P&G delivered 1000 toothbrushes, highlighters and notepads to my humble student house, and so much space was taken up that the lounge turned into a mini warehouse!
How successful was the ‘Smile’ project? At the time you were quoted as saying ‘I really hope that the achievements of the pilot Smile Project in Leeds will mean that it can successfully be run in many of your dental schools across Europe in the near future.’ Do you know if this has been achieved?
The Smile project was thankfully a huge success, so much so that P&G have agreed a platinum partnership and pledged 10,000 Euros each year so that we can run the project in 2 or 3 countries, every 12 months. I am now overseeing the Smile projects worldwide, with the next being in Turkey next month, then in Birmingham in 2 months and in Bulgaria in September. I am lucky enough to travel to each of those countries and oversee the project first hand so that I can eventually publish an article comparing the oral health knowledge of students across Europe and beyond.
Did you find it was easy to drum up interest among the students about dental care?
Strangely yes, although I guess students will do anything for a free gift, even if it is a toothbrush! People seemed remarkably concerned about their dental care and I think the appeal of a free checkup in these difficult financial times was just too tempting! Over 1000 people signed up to the project and I think if we ran it again in Leeds there would be even more.
You are heavily involved in the EDSA (European Dental Students Association), where has this position taken you in Europe and what was required of you?
It’s been a life changing role representing Leeds dental institute as a member of EDSA. I have travelled to Romania and Amsterdam so far and we actually organised a conference in Leeds last April. I was in charge of the finances for the conference which was a huge undertaking as it involved dealing with and processing conference fees of over 100 people, and also ensuring all the other team members stuck to the budget!
We all know dentistry is one of the most demanding degrees, do you find it difficult to bide your time between studying, your social life and all your other projects; or is it a work hard, play harder ethic?
I think dentistry is harder than I ever imagined; I rarely get any time to relax but I refuse to let that take away all my fun. I always attend the BDSA and EDSA conferences where we go out every night (and yes get up at 7 the next day for a full day of conference, but somehow we manage!) I also go to all the social events that DentSoc offer, most recently the Dental Ball which was amazing, and my halfway ball this month which will be momentous. I have also recently taken up piano, pole dancing and ballet so that I can actually get out of my dental bubble for a bit and interact with “normal” people for a change!
The cheeky side of dentistry was showcased recently when you organised the first ever naked dental calendar, how was it received?
It was just like the real Calendar Girls because it caused so much controversy amongst some of the very traditional professors, but in the end we managed to raise over £1000 for the oral cancer foundation. We also managed to win over even the most sceptical people, with tasteful photos in the clinics, labs, library and dental cafe.
Where do you hope your degree in dentistry and achievements in the field so far will take you in the future?
I really hope to do some further training so that I can specialise in oral surgery or aesthetic dentistry. Another option is to focus on the business side of things; people forget that dentistry and dental practices are a business, and I think I have a few potential ideas up my sleeve to hopefully revolutionise the dental experience and environment in the future. That is why I love dentistry so much, because the opportunities are limitless and each one is more exciting than the next.
And finally, do you have any tips for our HC readers on good dental care?
Well, being a dentist I am naturally paranoid about my teeth, so it is probably not good to become as obsessed with your oral health as me, after all there really is no need to take your mini mouthwash on a night out with you! But in the same respect everyone wants the glittering Hollywood smile and the only way to get it is by looking after your pearly whites and unfortunately coming to visit people like me on a regular basis!