Dr. Ngareka Bensemann is the principal dentist at the newly opened Marsden Cove dental clinic in Northland. She doesn’t just work at the practice, she created it herself from scratch which, as you can imagine, is not an easy task!
Ngareka believes that quality dentistry should be easily accessible to all, regardless of background, and is one of Solid’s early supporters.
We recently sat down (virtually) with Ngareka for a chat about the challenges of sustainable dentistry in the time of COVID-19.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m 28 and my family are currently in the South Island. I moved up to Northland in 2017 because my partner is from here, and I absolutely love it up here. Plus, I don’t like the cold very much! I’m quite into health and well-being, I play netball and love to keep fit.
What made you want be a dentist?
I always knew I wanted to work in the health sector. I thought I wanted to be doctor but when I went to uni I realised how much time that would take, as well as the toll on family life when I was ready to have a family. So, I chose dentistry because I can still help people in a meaningful way, but have more flexibility for family time.
You’re a business owner – how has COVID-19 affected your business?
It has affected it significantly, especially as we only opened in July 2020 (a delayed opening due to the first lockdown). Dentistry is an essential service, but we are pretty limited on what we can do when we go into lockdown.
Dentistry involves such close contact and produces lot of aerosols [tiny airborne particles that can transmit COVID-19].
We’ve remained closed during Levels 3 and 4. The upside to COVID-19 lockdowns is that we have been super busy when we are open. This could be due to people not being able to travel much so they are prioritising their dental health.
I understand that your whānau, in particular your Dad has an environmental background – I read about his environmental work in the West Coast. Is this where your commitment to sustainability comes from?
I haven’t really thought about it that way, but yes, I would say a lot of the influence has been from Dad. He really cares about the environment and has taken me on many walks in various native forests around the country. It’s taught me to appreciate the beauty of it all.
Who has been a mentor or role model for you and why?
I’ve had various mentors in different roles. More recently I’ve had business mentors from dentists that own dental practices themselves, which has been a great help as I navigate running a business.
What do you feel has been your greatest achievement?
At this stage in my life, I would say starting a dental practice from scratch. It was quite the big task, but thankfully I had amazing support to cheer me on and get here.
How do you think dentists and the dental community are doing generally when it comes to sustainability?
It’s challenging. Especially now that we have a pandemic.
Dentists have to be good at infection and prevention control anyway, but we do go through a lot of things that can’t be re-used; for example gloves and masks.
There are tools that always need to be packaged [in single use plastic] to be sterilised as well. I think the general goal is to minimise waste where we can while still following the correct guidelines. Ideally, there’d be some amazing material that gloves and masks will be made from, that are still effective for our use, but not so harmful on the environment (and not cost an arm and a leg!).
How engaged are your customers and employees with sustainability/ living a more sustainable life/climate change?
Quite a number of our patients are quite environmentally conscious and appreciate having an alternative toothpaste option.
Any personal sustainability tips you have?
The best thing by far is having more than one reusable coffee cup. There are some beautiful ones out there too!
Anything that you find it’s not possible to do sustainably?
Some aspects of dentistry, unfortunately!
How have your priorities evolved or changed from when you first started?
To be honest, my priorities haven’t changed a lot from when I first started.
I always think treating people with kindness and understanding can go a long way, which is how I strive to be with both my patients and staff.
There will always be challenges and times when there may be difficult encounters with someone, but on the whole this “mantra” has served me well.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thanks for doing the hard yards and creating a product that I actually love recommending to my patients!