“I always saw dentistry as a part of a more HOLISTIC view of healthcare.”
When we search for healthcare providers, there are two qualities that engender trust. The kind of trust that provides peace of mind in the moment and confidence in the future. Between medical professionals and their patients, it is based on their doctor’s ability; are they qualified? And their empathy; do they really care?
It would be difficult to determine which quality is stronger in Dr. Natalia Valderrama, of Valderrama Orthodontics in Melbourne. How many graduate from medical school in dentistry at just 18? Not one in a million people, but perhaps one in a million doctors. Then, she became a celebrated and innovative provider of oral health and treatment, in the poorest and most remote parts of her native Columbia, often traveling by horseback to treat villages in rural areas.
Looking back on what drew her towards dentistry she said, “I loved science and was fascinated with how the human body operated.” This, along with the influence of her mother, a biology professor; her father, a philosopher and a philanthropist; and her own orthodontist, who gave her a transformative experience when she was a teenager and encouraged her focus on her profession.
“I had such a wonderful experience with an orthodontist and saw what a difference they could make in a life. I prayed that one day I would be able to have that kind of impact on others.”
COMING TO AMERICA
Already a successful and experienced dentist with her own practice, at 25 she came to America on vacation and was captivated by how clean, modern and safe it was. “I loved the country and three days after my arrival, I decided this is where I wanted to live,” Dr. Valderrama said.
Though eminent in her native country, like many immigrants before her, she had to divert to a slightly different track to help her achieve American citizenship and an ability to practice dentistry. She chose to become a registered nurse.
“Part of the reason I did that is was I wanted to understand how the larger healthcare system in America worked,” she explained. “By becoming a nurse, I served in hospitals in the ER, labor and delivery and intensive care; my goal was to become a better overall clinician. I always saw dentistry as a part of a more holistic view of healthcare.”
She then went through a special international advanced program in general dentistry at the Eastman Institute for Oral Health at the University of Rochester. Having finished that program, she continued on to complete a specialty in orthodontics and dentofacial orthopedics.
Orthodontists, in addition to completing their general dentistry training, spend two to three years specializing in the diagnosis, prevention and correction of misaligned teeth and jaws, including overbites, occlusions and overcrowded mouths.
THE DIFFERENCE EXPERIENCE MAKES
“I wanted to be in a place where I could help people and I realized that in dentistry I have the power to change people’s lives,” Dr. Valderrama said. “That is why we offer free consultations; because part of my mission is to use my knowledge and experience for the betterment of others.”
One of the critical differentiators she identified, being initially trained and practicing in a poorer country, was that the focus of healthcare in these countries is on prevention, rather than curing people once they are sick. Early detection and intervention are foundational to their approach. From a quality of life, as well as the practicality of pure economics, the benefits are obvious. “If you can detect and intervene early, it has a huge impact,” she observed.
In addition, Dr. Valderrama is proactive in taking the initiative to refer patients to other medical specialists. “The longer you wait to treat a problem, the worse the problem has the potential to become. A simple referral to an ENT(Ear, Nose, Throat specialist), speech therapist or a general dentist can make a remarkable difference.”
Dr. Valderrama, is also committed to collaboration and with digital technologies at her disposal she is able to consult with specialists and clinicians from around the world.
CHANGING FACE OF ORTHODONTICS
“My practice covers both sides of the age spectrum,” she said. “For the young, we focus on early diagnosis and treatment, but I also have patients as old as 82.” The explanation is simple: she is seeing and treating people who have been suffering the effects of poor alignment all their lives.
Thus, they have gum problemsbecause they can’t floss properly,or their teeth are wearing incorrectly. Now with life expectancies increasing with each generation, what was once considered old, is now seen almost as middle age. Thus, orthodontic care becomes a healthy, quality of life and lifestyle option.
The case for having straight teeth isn’t simply a cosmetic issue, rather it helps ensure your teeth last longer and your overall health is improved. Therefore, if you are expecting to live to 100 or 110, then orthodontic care in your 50’s and 60’s makes perfect sense. “These individuals have the potential to be able to keep their teeth for an additional 40 or 50 years,” she said.
According to the American Association of Orthodontics, children should see an Orthodontist for an exam before they are 7 years old. Dr. Valderrama offers complimentary consultations at her practice: Valderrama Orthodontics in Suntree/ Viera.