Students, faculty explore passion amid busyness in HSEC art exhibition

Picture in hallway of HSEC showcasing art.

Three School of Dentistry students and one faculty member are featured in the fall 2023 Health Sciences Education Center Art Exhibition.

Part of Community Arts @ Health Sciences, the art exhibition showcases the creativity of faculty, staff and students across health sciences disciplines. From more than 160 submissions, a committee chose 31 pieces to display.

Each artist from the School of Dentistry submitted a piece with great meaning to them as a testament to the ways art and dentistry intersect.

Yihsuan Chen, DDS ’25, submitted an illustration of Hank the Octopus, a character she identified with from the movie Finding Dory. “He is definitely not the nicest guy in the movie, but he has a sense of humor, helps others, finally makes friends and has a new life in the ocean. And to be honest, maintaining high energy all the time is

Hand the Octopus artwork

hard,” she explained. “So no matter how calm or professional I might look, deep inside my mind, I wish I had seven hands (yes, Hank only has seven, not eight!), to handle all the dental instruments—and three hearts to help me deal with the busyness of life.”

Chen, who has loved crafting and working with her hands since a young age, feels a keen connection between  her artwork and her schooling. “I feel like practicing dentistry is similar to the way I make jewelry,” she said. 

Yihsuan Chen with dog.

“Make it delicate and precise, make it pretty and shiny, and most importantly, make people smile.” She feels honored to share her art, which she considers “a great way to communicate with people.” 

Keta Desai, DDS, MHA, clinical assistant professor of oral medicine, diagnosis and radiology, similarly used her art to explore themes of busyness and stress management.

“As an adult and as a parent, we are juggling many things at the same time. Being a life-long learner, I also have

Keta Desai artwork of beach scene.

 professional and personal goals such as earning my MHA and advocating for interprofessional education in dentistry.,” she reflected. “I’ve learned to focus on the goals, create a plan  and trust the process—which is often slow and influenced by external factors. This photo I took in the North Shore captures the essence of that motto very well for me.”

Desai was excited to participate in an interprofessional collaborative experience that brings art and healthcare together. “Submitting this photo for the HSEC art exhibit is a small way for me to highlight the field of dentistry and continue its assimilation in the health sciences community,” she said. “I can’t wait to bring my son here on his day off school and show him ‘mom’s photo’ while it’s on exhibit.”

Maya Cheaitli artwork.

Maya Cheaitli, DDS ’27, sees photography as “a form of self expression” that she can use to “evoke a sense of appreciation for the beautiful moments in life. She submitted a photo that “represents the combination of 3 things I love: sunflowers, sunsets and the mountains.” She feels that “the elements of the image convey a sense of natural beauty, harmony, warmth and positivity” and that “the photo is a celebration of nature’s serene and breathtaking moments.”

It was photography, and her clients’ insecurity about their smiles, that first drew Cheaitli to dentistry. “I would edit people’s smiles in post production, and that made them happy, but dentistry gives them back the

Maya Cheaitli headshot

ir confidence for a lifetime,” she explained.

She also sees the art in dentistry—and how her chosen art form, photography, is essential to excellent care.

 “Dentistry in itself is an art: from sculpting a crown to placing a filling, it all requires some form of artistic ability,” she said. “Photography is also important in dentistry; high-quality images are essential for documentation, diagnosis and treatment planning.”

Image of Nan Nongnuang with bouquet of flowers

For Nan Nongnuang, DDS ’25, both her path in dentistry and her art stem from a love for her family. “I wanted to make myself and my family proud by attaining higher education,” she explained. “I hope to set an example for immigrant children that they can reach their ambitious goals with effort and willpower. Dentistry was a perfect fit for me as it challenges me to utilize my creativity in new ways, while also giving back to my community.”

Nongnuang submitted a drawing of her  grandmother. “In Thai, ‘Yaai’ means grandma. I remember the majority of my childhood inThailand, being raised by my grandma,” she explained. “She had a chance to visit me many years ago and I took a picture of her while she took a nap. After she left, I drew this portrait as a gift for my mother.”

Image of Nan Nongnuang's drawing of Grandmother

Nongnuang chose to be part of the exhibition to “remind myself and others how important it is to not let go of our hobbies and passions” during dental school. “As a healthcare provider, it is only when we are happy and healthy that we can look for the health of others,” she said. “Reminding myself of my passions during the busyness of dental school helped me become a better student, friend and caregiver.”

Like her peers, Nongnuang sees the value of “an aesthetic touch and manual dexterity” in art and dentistry. “Our hands and senses are both tools of the trade in these professions,” she said. “We need a vision to envision our final destination, the skills and experiences to reach it and the mindset to continue when things don’t go to plan.”

Artwork is displayed on the third and seventh floors of the Health Sciences Education Center and will remain on display through March 2024.