TWO FACTORS above all propel Dr. Kadambari “Kady” Rawal’s work and research: family ties and a sense of generational responsibility.
In 2008, Dr. Rawal moved to the U.S. from her native India straight out of dental school to pursue her residency in a specialty that is both overlooked and of increasing national importance: geriatric dentistry. Specifically, helping ensure that it’s an integral part of seniors’ overall health care.
Now part of a faculty practice at Boston University’s Dental Health Center, Dr. Rawal, 32, has her mother and grandmother to thank for her professional passion. Growing up in Mumbai, she was close to both, and was shocked to discover how many oral surgeons refused to treat her grandmother after she contracted lymphoma. “Either they didn’t have the confidence or the education to develop a treatment plan for such complicated and advanced cases in elderly patients,” Dr. Rawal says. “When [my grandmother] passed, my determination to go into geriatrics became even stronger, because I didn’t want anyone to go through what she went through.”
Since she arrived in Massachusetts, Dr. Rawal has expanded her focus to encompass research, volunteering and mentoring as well. Three days a week she treats patients 85 and older at Boston’s Hebrew Rehabilitation Center and Hebrew Senior Life; she also provides volunteer oral-health consultations for organizations including Rosie’s Place, which opened in 1974 as the United States’ first women’s shelter.
Perhaps the most vital way Dr. Rawal is driving dentistry forward, though, is through her efforts regarding end-of-life dentistry. “I’m trying to create guidelines that I hope will become groundbreaking research,” she says. “I learn about it daily treating my patients, helping me come up with new methodologies to figure out the best care we can give.”
She’s working to tailor advanced dental technology for the oldest patients—how to adapt CAD/CAM, for example, to medically compromised people who in some cases can barely open their mouth. The animating idea: “to make patients’ lives easier, shorten appointment times and provide accurate, reproducible results,” she says. “In the coming years, that’ll be the way dentistry moves.”
Others are taking notice. In 2016, Dr. Rawal won the Woman to Watch Award as part of Benco Dental’s Lucy Hobbs Project, which celebrates the achievements of women in dentistry. “Since then, it’s been a crazy journey,” she says. She has been awarded a fellowship in the American Society of Geriatric Dentistry, as well as the International College of Dentists. “They’re a global network, so it’s given me access to many projects in different countries, and access to different ideas.”
Her homeland beckons still, however; twice a year, Dr. Rawal returns to Mumbai. “I usually go for no more than two weeks—enough to spend time with family, do outreach and teach a mini-lecture series.” Two years ago, she began teaching geriatric dentistry at several Mumbai universities, and has helped them design curricula around the discipline. The only downside? “I do miss my patients. When you treat 90-year-olds, they get attached—and every time I come back I need to show them pictures.” She smiles, displaying a radiant set of pearly whites. “This is all a dream come true.”