Turning Tragedy into Triumph

In Inspiration by Katie Lee

When tragedy strikes, one has two options. You can either become a victim of your circumstances and allow the world to happen to you, or you can take your power back over the tragedy and make your own destiny. I decided to do the latter, and that is how I found my “why”.

Let’s begin with the accident that started it all:

“I tipped my head away from the wind, turning it back for just a second, so I could hear my girlfriend better. She sat behind me on my ATV, yelling something in my ear as we

raced down the road. There was a bump, a jolt, and then blackness. Apparently, I went headfirst—while not wearing a helmet—into a telephone pole at over thirty miles per hour.

I’d broken my face—literally. Every bone in my face from the eyebrows down was broken. I was missing part of my lip and a few teeth (they were stuck in the telephone pole). I’m alive, but barely. I’ve been in a coma for nearly a week and have lost over ten pounds, which is catastrophic for a broken body fighting hard to survive. My parents have been promised so many times that I am going to die, be a vegetable, or never be the same again after the damage from my head heals that they’ve started to make arrangements for any of those outcomes. But I’m a fighter. Long story short: that’s how I got into dentistry (From my book Saved By the Mouth).

It took four years and nine reconstructive surgeries to repair the damage I had done to my face and my wrist. All the while, I was supposed to be a normal high school teenager, playing volleyball, socializing with friends, and earning good grades. Having a broken writing hand made it difficult to take notes in class (this was before laptops were allowed in the classroom); so I learned to write left-handed. I also had to take all of my finals early so that I could get surgery at the end of each semester. Playing sports was also difficult for the first few years while having my jaw wired shut and a cast on my arm. So, I hit the gym and kept in shape when I was unable to play. Socializing with missing front teeth was humiliating, so I grew thick skin and wore a flipper when I didn’t forget it in my bedroom. This is what we do when faced with obstacles- we adapt.

I learned from a very young age how much oral health impacts overall health and mental well-being. After my wires were removed from my jaws, my jaws were locked, and the joints had fused shut. I was unable to open my mouth for four more years until I received a rib transplant surgery in my senior year of high school. This meant that my broken teeth were unable to be repaired. I was unable to open my mouth to adequately brush my teeth, and I was unable to eat properly. The systemic health effects were almost immediate. Pain, inflammation, and weight loss, eventually leading to high liver enzymes and kidney malfunction. I was very thin and malnourished. My body was not getting the critical nutrients it needed to function and from all of the inflammation and infection from my mouth, my body was on fire and shutting down. It was not until after my rib graft surgery that I was able to open my mouth, have my teeth repaired and my smile fixed that my physical and mental health returned to my new normal.

Having been through that experience and realizing how much our oral health affects our bodies, I decided to use that experience to better the lives of other people by becoming a dentist. Over the last decade, I’ve had patients with varying degrees of chronic inflammation and disease (at their wit’s end) sit in my chair, pleading for a solution to their health problems. There is a deeper connection between bacteria and inflammation that occurs in your mouth and how it exacerbates disease. Individuals dealing with heart disease, diabetes, and even fertility issues will have key indicators in their mouths–discovered through innovative technologies and testing–that are flashing warning signs.

Knowing the frustrations these individuals faced, I made it my mission to focus my expertise on the connection between oral health and overall health; ensuring that my patients and the public understand the importance of proper oral health care beyond just seeing your dentist twice a year. It’s about reducing an individual’s risk of acquiring a multitude of health issues that will affect your well-being.

Through my patients’ experiences and my own lived experience, I realized that there was a lack of understanding about the mouth-body connection®…cue writing a book! I wrote my first book Saved By the Mouth to highlight the transformative power of oral health and its impact on overall health, wellness, and longevity. This book is an homage to my own story and the many patient stories that made a significant impact on my career and my mission to provide better health outcomes. It’s about turning the life-threatening into the life-saving.

As dentists, we know that most people don’t like going to the dentist’s office. My hope is that through my book and by educating and encouraging individuals to advocate for their health we can break down some of the barriers preventing people from seeking help; ultimately providing a clearer understanding of how to treat diseases and inflammation. Additionally, I hope that other dentists and dental professionals see the greater need for incorporating a whole-body approach to dentistry in their practices to give patients the best care possible.

After all these years, I am proud to say that I have focused my career on oral systemic health, dental implants, and increasing access to care so that patients can get the critical oral health care they need to thrive.

About Dr. Katie Lee

Dr. Katie Lee is a dentist, speaker, author, and coach who lives in Aurora, Colorado. Dr. Lee graduated from University of Illinois at Chicago in 2010 and was an owner-partner in over 80 DSO supported dental practices throughout the US and served as Clinical Partner overseeing 5 states. Currently, she consults for health technology companies and provides implant education for general dentists. Dr. Lee has two passions in her profession: dentistry itself and making other dentists successful. Her passion about the oral systemic health link comes from personal experience.

Dr. Lee was involved in an ATV accident as a teenager, which left her without many teeth and rendered her jaw immobile. Dr. Lee experienced how oral health affects systemic health and the benefits of dental implants. Her first-hand journey in recovering from the effects of dental trauma led her to specialize her career on the mouth-body connection® and dental implants. Dr. Lee searches for proven technologies that improve clinical outcomes and the patient experience and loves to educate her peers on those technologies. Dr. Lee authored a book entitled Saved By the Mouth to educate patients and clinicians on the importance of oral health. Dr. Lee has won many accolades, including Top 40 under 40 Dentists in America, and International Woman of the Year in Dentistry. She has been featured on local Fox and NBC news stations discussing the importance of oral health.

For more information about Dr. Lee, visit https://katieleedds.com/ and Saved By the Mouth, visit https://www.savedbythemouth.com/.