As a dentist, you spend most of your time at your practice. It’s understandable that you might not get many opportunities to see what it’s like in another doctor’s office. That’s why we bring you an “office visit” six times a year. It’s a chance for you to meet your peers, see their practices and hear their stories. This month we caught up with Dr. Desirée Walker, a North Carolina native who balances being a full-time dentist with competing on the hit television show, “American Ninja Warrior.” You won’t want to miss how this doc has transformed her office into a ninja training ground.
What was the path you took to becoming a dentist?
Dr. Walker: I grew up in a small rural town in North Carolina. I thought going to the dentist was cool and viewed it like a mini field trip to an amusement park. I was just fascinated by the experience: the chairs that went up and down with all the gadgets, the bowl I got to spit in, the nice lady who cleaned my teeth and then gave me a toy and toothbrush.
Growing up, I never realized that so many people were scared of—or dreaded—going to see the dentist. I was always happy to see mine. He was a nice older man—like a granddad—who wore plaid bell-bottoms and told me I had a nice smile. My positive experiences at the dentist as a patient made me curious about dentistry as a career.
I actually invented a piece of dental equipment when I was 8 years old. My friend had a loose baby tooth that would not come out. We were both gymnasts and I had an indoor pull-up bar, on which we spent hours practicing. I came up with an ingenious plan that she willingly agreed to—I have no clue why. I had her stand on a chair placed right under the pull-up bar. I tied a short piece of string around the tooth, and then the other end around the bar. I had her grab the bar and I took away the chair. She was hanging in chin-up position with her tooth tied to the bar.
Soon into the plan she changed her mind, but before she could sputter out the words, “Get the chair,” her arms gave way, she dropped down, and the tooth came out. It was dangling from the string, still attached to the chin-up bar.
I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I had helped my friend with my pull-up-bar tooth extractor. She was a tad stunned and so glad her tooth was out. We went right back to playing on the bar, with the tooth still dangling.
Dr. Walker: My official transformation to a “ninja dentist” occurred on a Saturday afternoon while bonding ortho brackets on my husband.We were in the office alone and I received a call with a Hollywood area code. I do not normally take calls during patient care, but since the call was from Hollywood and the patient was my husband, I quickly de-gloved to see who was on the other end.It happened to be the producers from the hit NBC television show, “American Ninja Warrior.” They wanted me to compete. I had submitted an application and video months earlier but had forgotten all about it, especially with the demands of a ground-up, start-up practice in its four-month infancy.
My jaw dropped. I had three weeks before I had to travel to Miami to compete on the show. It was the athletic thrill of a lifetime.
Six years earlier, back in dental school, I would never have dreamed about this opportunity. I was not in athletic shape and was suffering from severe chronic back pain. The pain was so severe that I had to wear a specialized back brace daily to get through the rigors of clinic and class. I even had to wear it to get a good night’s sleep.
The pain was debilitating and I had thoughts of dropping out of dental school altogether, but instead I decided to change. Instead of trying not to move my body to avoid pain, I began to move again, but differently.
I went back to one of my childhood passions. I returned to gymnastics and joined the club gymnastics team on campus. Most important, I added movement breaks in my day, which included stretching and mobility exercises in between clinic and classes. There was no eureka moment when I became pain-free. It was gradual healing process. Dedication and consistency to my new movement and mobility routine were critical to my becoming pain-free.
At the end of the day I was going home with no pain, and getting stronger. The pain relief not only improved my clinic and school performance, but also made me want to challenge myself even more, athletically.
I began entering fitness competitions. Within two years, I was a national champion and professional fitness competitor.
I installed gymnastics training equipment in my home—I had rings and rope mounted from the ceiling in my living room, and wall bars and a balance beam in my training room. I competed as a 33-year-old for one season alongside some of the girls I coached. It was a thrill to relive those gymnastics competition days.
I made a huge professional decision to build and open my own dental practice. It was having my own practice that allowed me to integrate movement into my day. I installed rings, stall bars and yoga mats in my private office. I surrounded myself with a constant flow of movement and inspiration that made me feel good. Feeling good allowed to me to progress into more complex “ninja” workouts.