Helping Others Improve Their Oral Health

Alejandro Salcedo

Commencement offers graduates a moment to reflect on their time as a Columbia student before they take the next step on their life path. It is an opportunity to celebrate accomplishments, but also pause and appreciate the people, relationships, and lessons that coalesce to make each graduating student’s experience unique.

This month, Alejandro Salcedo will receive his DDS from the College of Dental Medicine. We asked him to share a few highlights from his time at Columbia and their impact on his personal and professional development.  

What drew you to dentistry and, in particular, to Columbia’s College of Dental Medicine? 

I was drawn to dentistry because of its technical aspects and my desire to help others improve their oral health. It is a field that combines art with diagnosing and treating dental problems. I knew it was a profession where I could use my hand skills to bring about change in people’s lives.

And then once I had arrived and could shadow different practicing dentists, I felt even more secure in my decision. All of them urged me to pursue it passionately.

Was there one course or clinical rotation that made a deep impression on you?  

The dental emergency rotation was my favorite. It was the most stimulating because you never knew what the patient was going to present with. It was challenging to decipher the etiology of pain, and it was rewarding to relieve the patients of their pain and discomfort. The experience taught me to examine each and every patient comprehensively. 

Can you tell us about a project you worked on that had special meaning to you?  

I feel fortunate to have worked and studied alongside pediatric residents. I also had the opportunity to coordinate and perform caries risk assessments for numerous families in the Washington Heights community.

The parents I worked with were eager to learn about dental health and demonstrated a significant increase in their knowledge. It was amazing to see our prevention program in action, educating and treating children with severe early-childhood caries. And it was rewarding to give back to the community in which I lived and grew up.

Is there one professor that you would especially like to thank?  

I would like to thank my group practice leader, Dr. Elizabeth Odinez-Bortfeld. She was constantly there by my side guiding me through procedures, offering suggestions, and teaching me different methods to solve the same problem.

Even in difficult procedures she was extremely encouraging, and this unwavering support through her mentorship was extremely important to me. She is a positive role model and has set many great examples for her students to follow. I see an immense growth in my skills as a dental clinician and I owe it to her trust and wisdom.

What’s the next step for you in your career? And further ahead, what do you hope to accomplish?  

I will be doing a general practice residency at the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital for the next year. I am extremely excited to enhance my clinical skills and to continue maturing as a dental clinician.

In the near future, I hope to become an endodontist and to specialize in treating tooth pain and providing root canals. Regardless of where my career path takes me, I am passionate about providing oral health education and care to my patients. As long as I’m doing this, I can’t go wrong. 

What one thing will you miss most about Columbia?

As graduation approaches, I am excited for this great achievement but also saddened by a chapter coming to a close. Dental school is a journey, and I couldn’t have done it without all the friends and faculty that I have encountered along the way.

This chapter may be closing, but a new one is opening for all of us. It is a privilege to be part of the Columbia family, and am sure my classmates and I will all make our teachers and our parents proud.