At The Princess Margaret’s Dental Oncology and Maxillofacial Prosthetics Clinic, you’ll find Dr. Erin Watson, Deputy Chief of Dentistry, working alongside a team of specialists to provide life-changing diagnostic and therapeutic dental and facial prosthetic services to cancer patients before, during, and after their treatment.
Dental oncology is one of the most highly specialised fields of dentistry that you can enter and it’s one Dr. Watson – a leader and role model – describes as “a real art form.” She fell in love with the idea of focusing her career on supporting patients at The Princess Margaret after only two days of working at the cancer centre.
Every year, the clinic provides care to 1,600 new patients. Some cancer treatments can cause problems with the teeth and mouth, leading to the need for preventative or restorative care. These patients may be receiving radiation therapy for head and neck cancers, require prosthetic care before or after head and neck surgery, undergoing stem cell or bone marrow transplants, taking certain types of medications, or have weakened immune systems due to treatment or a cancer type that increases the risk of infection.
Dr. Watson sees her primary role as supporting survivorship. “Eating and enjoying meals with family and friends is such an important part of human existence. Losing that has a significant impact on a patient,” she says. “We want to ensure patients maintain a good quality of life for 5 years, 10 years and more down the line.”
Inequity in access to dental oncology is common in Ontario as many procedures are not covered by Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) and not every cancer patient is eligible.
Dr. Watson became determined to change this. She launched a Fellowship Program in Dental Oncology at The Princess Margaret – the first of its kind in Canada – in 2019.
A member of the Faculty of Dentistry at the University of Toronto, she also conducts research, creates clinical guidelines for head and neck patients, and collaborates with international experts to enhance treatment and knowledge sharing.
Dr. Watson hopes her steadfast commitment to provide exceptional and equitable care will change the future of dental oncology across Canada and around the world.
While more women are pursuing dentistry, there are fewer women in leadership roles in academic hospital centres. “One reason might be that it’s a rigorous and difficult environment and if you want to have children, managing a family life can be challenging – but it doesn’t have to be that way,” she said.
Dr. Watson credits the wonderful team of women working in her department as well as her family for enabling her to pursue a successful career. “One assistant knew I hadn’t been able to pick up St. Patrick’s Day items for my kids, so she brought a few to the office for me to give them. My mom has also been incredibly supportive, moving in with me two days a week for the first year of my daughter’s life so I could head back to work.”
“My parents always promoted the idea that I can achieve anything that I want. They steamrolled over the idea of any restrictions around what you can do and achieve.”
When Dr. Watson is not at the clinic, the Formula One enthusiast is hitting the ski slopes with her family and instilling the same belief in her daughter and son that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.