A Day in the Life of a Millennial Woman in Dentistry





By Lexi Marino May 28, 2021

In this episode, Dr. Elaine Bylis catches up with Dr. Molly Kovalesky, DDS and Pediatric Dentist at The Smile Lodge to celebrate the rise of women in dentistry and address confidence issues young dentists face as they build their reputations.

Watch this video to learn how to:

  • Overcome situations when patients or guardians of patients lend commentary in relation to your capabilities as a clinician
  • Incorporate Dr. Molly’s “Art of the Pregame” to gain respect and trust from your patient

Transcription:

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Hello, everyone. Welcome to Flossy Ladies with Zyris. My name is Elaine Bylis. Thank you so much for being here today. The purpose of Flossy Ladies is to interview different women in dentistry, of different ages, in different specialties. We’re going to hear their stories, hear their challenges and see how they overcame them.

My guest today is one of my absolute best friends of all time, Dr. Molly Kovalesky. Dr. Molly and I went to University of Maryland, Dental School together. We graduated in 2017, and she now practices as a Pediatric Dentist in Saratoga, New York at the Smile Lodge.

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: I’m doing amazing. How are you doing today, Dr. Elaine?

Dr. Elaine Bylis: I am doing so well, thank you so much for being here. So, while I was preparing for this interview, I had this little realization. If I told you four years ago that you and I would be sitting here, doing this interview and that people might actually want to hear what we have to say, would you believe me?

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: Oh, 100%. People always wanted to hear what we had to say all the time.

Choosing Pediatric Dentistry

Dr. Elaine Bylis: It’s so crazy how much has changed in the past four years. I’m just so honored to have you as my very best friend. To start today off, I would love to just hear, what is your story? What made you want to become a dentist? What made you choose pediatrics and how did you end up at the Smile Lodge?

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: So how I got interested in dentistry, actually it’s kind of a funny story. I was a little bit of the weird kid in middle school and for our science fair project, we all had to do this big science fair project in seventh grade. I decided to do the effect of different liquids on baby teeth, because my mom was like, guess what I still have, your baby teeth. I thought this would be a great opportunity to do a little science experiment. I put them in mouthwash, soda, milk, and orange juice. The Coca-Cola broke them in half. That was pretty crazy.

After doing this doing the research, I got really interested and I actually started shadowing dentists at 13 years old. Then through a program I did in high school, I actually met my current boss, Dr. James McDonnell, who runs the Smile Lodge in Clifton Park.

It was just a great pleasure to meet him and see how passionate he was about pediatric dentistry, not just dentistry in general. I think most importantly, it was just these kids are so much fun to work with. It was cool to see how resilient they are. They can be upset with you for one second for doing something, and then literally five seconds later they’re up, they’re happy and they forgive you, which is not the experience that I’ve had in adult dentistry at all.

Then, I went on to Syracuse University for my undergrad and I then went to Maryland and met you, where I decided to pursue dentistry, and kept a very open mind, but unfortunately I just, pediatrics, it was what I was pigeonholed for, it’s exactly what I’m made to do, and I tried to keep that open mind but it didn’t work. I love pediatrics and that’s where I ended up, and I’m so happy and grateful that my boss from when I was a dental assistant accepted me as a pediatric dentist, and I couldn’t be happier with where I am now.

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Wow, that is amazing. Dr. Molly, I think you might’ve been a weirder kid than I was, and that’s saying a lot because I was an obsessive tooth freak, as well when I was growing up. But yeah, I think you might take the cake on that one.

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: It freaks my friends out a little bit, but the actual teeth were like glued to my poster board a little bit, I think I could have like, just had pictures as a substitute because that really freaked them out a little

Dr. Elaine Bylis: No, I think I would have thought you’re weird too. Just kidding. That’s physically impossible.

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: That’s what dental school is for. You meet your people. You meet your weird teeth people and you become a tribe.

Working in a Large Group Practice

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Yup. A whole bunch of weirdos and flock together. I absolutely love it. So tell me about the Smile Lodge. I mean, as a general dentist, I feel like our practice, so I practiced with my dad and it’s just the two of us dentists. We have two hygienists, two assistants, two front desk personnel. Your practice seems like this massive enterprise. What does a day like at the Smile Lodge? I want to hear all about it.

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: It’s full of energy. We are a large group practice. So, we have about 10 pediatric dentists or so on board. We also have a couple of general dentists. They provide us the benefit of doing a lot of our procedures on teenagers who have much more permanent teeth.

Since COVID-19, we have two buildings where one we’re doing aerosol procedures, one where we’re just doing exams and cleanings and things like that. So, you’ll do hygiene for half a day and I will see lots of different patients and families and get to meet everybody and do different treatment planning.

Then the second half of the day, we’re overdoing our operative side and we kind of switch back and forth with what we’re doing, and it’s just amazing. A lot of what we do at the Smile Lodge is full mouth treatment if the kids can tolerate it. I really like it because in pediatric dentistry you often see something called the sequential visit effect where kids often don’t handle treatment as well as they did the first time as they do the second and third time. So, a lot of times we just work with them and if they’re able to get through it if that’s something that they’re able to do, we go ahead and we’re able to treat them fully in one day which is really nice.

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Wow, amazing. Right now, so you and are young dentists, we’re associate dentists. What are your future plans? Are you planning on staying an associate? Are you planning on becoming a partner? Are you unsure? What do you think the future holds for you?

Balancing Your Career and Planning to Have a Family

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: I think what I love about dentistry is you can keep your options open. Especially that was one reason I went into dentistry as a woman. I want to have a family and it’s nice to have the flexibility. My grandfather was not a pediatric dentist, he was a general dentist, and he owned his own practice in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He was a very busy man. He ran this whole business and I my grandmother was one of his business managers and ran the business. So, they were busy. The one thing I love about being an associate is I go to work and then I go home, and I get to spend time with my family.

Practice ownership is something that I look forward to and I think could be an option for me or a partnership. At the end of the day, I’m currently really loving being an associate and want to get my family started. That’s currently what I love about it is it’s a really great job, and very flexible for those types of opportunities.

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Amazing. So, you keep mentioning family. You are a pediatric dentist, you love kids. So, are you planning on raising a family?

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: Actually, we are trying to start a family soon. We’re thinking. I love the practice because we have a lot of women there and even the men at the practice, most of them have children. Very understanding and supportive environment where if I do choose to have a family someday, I work four days a week and I have a day off but we’ve also mentioned that there’s a possibility that I could go down to three days a week temporarily while my children are home. Once they go to school, I could go back to four days. So, just another amazing thing about dentistry is if you have those flexible schedules and especially working as an associate, I find there’s lots of opportunities to work part-time and things like that.

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Amazing. Now my next question for you. So, you and I were both young dentists we’re both women working in dentistry. What do you find are some challenges that you face on a day-to-day basis?

Addressing Challenging Comments Based on Gender

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: Recently, I was extracting an adult tooth on a little boy and unfortunately his permanent molar number 30 had to come out. He was able to tolerate the procedure with nitrous, but it is a tough procedure where you feel a lot of pressure.

I was explaining, you can’t take that pressure away, and that this is something that’s going to take us a little bit of time to get the tooth out. Well in the middle of the procedure, because our parents are always in the room so that they can see what’s happening and be comfortable with the treatment. The mother said to me, “Is there any way this would go any faster if we got a man in here?” It was quite a difficult tooth, but I was a little shocked in the moment.

Luckily this was not the first time that as a woman in dentistry, I have faced this question. I have some male friends who I love but at the same time have asked me some silly questions like, “Aren’t men better at taking out teeth, because you know, they’re just stronger?” I had to take the time to just stop and say, “You know I totally understand what you’re thinking about in terms of strength, but this is actually much more about technique and finesse.”

Also, this kid is going to thank me for that tomorrow rather than just using brute force to get this out of there. So, I said, “Unfortunately it’s going to take us a little time.” I explained that teeth are attached to your bone with a ligament and things like that. We were able to handle this situation and not have any further comments like that. That was a challenge that I was surprised by, by being a woman in dentistry.

Gaining Your Confidence as a Young Clinician

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Oh, my gosh. So, how do you overcome things like this? And I do have to say, so I’m also a woman in dentistry. I’m also doing extractions and things like that. I also get these kinds of questions and I’m like, “But have you seen these muscles? I mean, come on, like they don’t call me spaghetti arms for nothing.”

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: So, like I said, in that situation, I just handled it by explaining what we’re doing and why it takes time. One thing I’ve had to do is gain more confidence in myself and have the parent and the patient feel more relaxed. As you can see, I am somebody who I talk very, very fast. It’s the New Yorker in me, I have a lot of natural energy.

One thing I’ve learned is especially when talking about treatment and post-op all those things, slow down. Remember that you need to be calm. A lot of people see fast talking as nerves. So, that was actually something that my boss taught me, and I really appreciated it.

The ‘Art of the Pregame’ in Dentistry

Another thing is, “the art of the pregame” in dentistry. It helps you so much. If you thoroughly explained to your patients and parents that these are the most common things that you could see happening after today. I like to text a lot of my patients, after I do operative procedures just to make sure that their kids are doing okay. So, I will usually text their parents that night, and through doing that. I warn them that it’s normal to have some soreness the first couple of days. Also, I let them know things like adjusting to a crown, a stainless-steel crown, they may not feel like their bite is right the first day or two, that will adjust in pediatric dentistry.

In addition, one of the biggest things that we see and one of the biggest problems in pediatric dentistry is lip bites. That is the biggest thing I have learned to prep people for, is that kids especially with masks nowadays and COVID-19, we’re not seeing what our kids are doing and they’re sucking and biting on their lip, and it can cause a really nasty inner injury that to physicians and ED docs and dermatologists they will swear they had an allergic reaction, and is infected and all of these things, it is a lip bite. You can prevent so much just by showing some pictures ahead of time, that’s another challenge I’ve been able to overcome.

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Okay. So, what is the phrase? It’s like if you say it before it happens, then it’s a reason, and if you say it after it happens then it’s an excuse. So, we need to just prep them and maybe even over-deliver to make sure that everyone is fully prepared because maybe you and I as young dentists, as female dentists, we just really need to overcompensate.

How does it make you feel that maybe people don’t have the same amount of confidence in you? You know, maybe as a young dentist or as a woman?

There are Certain Advantages to Being a Women in Dentistry

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: It hurts your feelings. Like when you first get that, “Oh would this go faster if a man did it?” That makes me a little upset that like, that kind of hurt. I wish you had that confidence and faith in me.

One thing I do remind myself is a lot of my male colleagues, when they are going to go into the room, their concern is, “Is the patient going to think that I was gentle enough? Or would they think I would be gentler if I was a woman?” So, I do appreciate that. Remember that there are certain advantages I have as a woman.

Even though there can be downsides, like you know, some people aren’t as used to having female providers because it’s a newer thing, or they think that men are stronger or maybe better at different things. There are also things that sometimes I feel like a lot of times there’s requests for female providers because we have that mothering touch and things like that. So, there’s advantages and disadvantages to both for sure.

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Dr. Molly, I am loving your message of just over-preparing, being nurturing, I mean, that is just, it’s so amazing. There’s disadvantages to working in dentistry as a woman. Maybe you’re perceived a little bit different but there’s also advantages where we are perceived as the nurturing ones. I love that message. Now, if you had to summarize, everything we’re talking about today, and so one message for the other young dentists out there, what would it be?

Dr. Molly Kovalesky: For me, it would be dentistry is a wonderful field for a young woman. If you like to work with your hands, if you like to feel like you’re really being productive, if you like caring for people, this is such a good job for a woman. It’s a wonderful career path. There are so many options. It’s been such an amazing opportunity and I’m only in the beginning so I can’t wait to see what’s to come.

Dr. Elaine Bylis: Dr. Molly, thank you so much for taking the time to be here. Thank you for being my best friend. You’re an absolute inspiration and you’re the absolute best.