Today, we speak to Nina Bal about her career journey, how facial aesthetics plays a role in dentistry and how she manages her work-life balance so well.
Dr Nina Bal is a cosmetic dental surgeon and facial aesthetics doctor who, in 2008, graduated in Italy at the top of her year with distinction.
You might recognise her from TV as Dr Nina is the official cosmetic dentist in series two of the UK TV show Body Fixers on E4 and from This Morning with Holly and Phil on ITV.
Why did you decide to move to the UK?
It was actually a very random decision. A decision made out of love because I met my husband in a cafe in 2012.
I was working in Italy with my uncle, who has a really big practice. I had a house, a clinic, a patient base, everything.
Then I met my husband (who is from the UK) and I thought, I’ll just follow my heart! I’m just going to start everything again and everybody thought I was absolutely crazy to leave everything. But I did, in February 2012, with no job and without knowing anyone!
Why did you decide to branch out into facial aesthetics and cosmetic dentistry?
I always loved aesthetics and beauty, ever since I can remember.
Even before I went into dentistry, I always had two passions. One was medicine/dentistry and one was beauty/aesthetics/fashion.
I was always drawn to know more about aesthetics, about why something was beautiful, and how I look after myself. So that was always part of me.
It was a natural transition to start to learn more and just go more into the side of dentistry that I loved.
I started because I really like to improve people’s smiles. And I wanted to do more smile design instead of extracting teeth and doing surgery.
So I just followed that path and it was only when I moved to the UK that I realised how big facial aesthetics is within dentistry.
In Italy, that’s still very much in the hands of a plastic surgeon or a dermatologist. But I was so excited that as a dentist, I could do more aesthetics in the UK.
I took the plunge and moved. Then, six months later, I had a job and a bit of money coming in. So I just reinvested in my courses and started to learn more and more about the practice.
I just wanted to become the best I could possibly be.
How many years of general dentist practice do you need? Is there a minimum amount of time you need before you switch to cosmetic dentistry?
It’s a difficult one.
I would say as soon as you find out that’s what you love, just go and do it.
Obviously, finish all the training; I think VT is compulsory in the UK, but I’m not too sure.
Once you do that, I would say if that’s what you love to go for it.
What I actually see, in the UK, is that sometimes a common path for a new dentist is to stop working for the NHS. Maybe you have a dream of doing cosmetic dentistry, and you start the journey, you become comfortable in it, and then you get stuck in that path. And then you give up on your dreams.
I can see so many dentists are not happy with what they do.
When I moved to the UK, I had no performer number because I did not train here. I knew no one would just give me a job in an NHS practice. So I was forced to beg for a job in private practice, and it actually turned out to be the best thing ever. It just allowed me to do what I love since I moved here.
What has been your favourite smile make over and why?
I think it has to be one of my patients on E4 Body Fixers.
This guy lost his upper central incisor when he was about 15. His sister knocked his tooth out with a baseball bat. But he could never afford to have his tooth replaced.
He didn’t come from a wealthy background, so his parents never even took him to the dentist. By the time he was 23, he had basically taught himself not to smile for many years.
It was a challenge to put the two factors together. To restore the tooth and the gums to health. They were quite inflamed.
It was challenging because I had to teach him to smile again.
His facial muscles had not been used for years, so it was very emotional for both of us and it was it was a really nice feeling.
What is the biggest challenge of your career so far?
I think there wasn’t just one challenge. I think we all face so many challenges in our lives.
For me, it was a combination of the fact that I moved to a country that wasn’t my country. I didn’t have any family here apart from my husband. English was not my first language. I had no connection or experience of the UK at all. And I always had this feeling that it was because I could not work for the NHS, because I had no performer number.
I had to beg dental practices to give me an opportunity so many times.
When I was doing phone call interviews, I could feel the judgement; they were assuming I was an immigrant coming from Italy.
Practice owners assumed I was Italian or Spanish, and had just come to the UK because I couldn’t find a job or I couldn’t afford to live in Italy.
That was really hard and hurtful at first. But I thought, that doesn’t matter.
I want to start somewhere and as long as someone gives me an opportunity, I can prove to them how much I’m worth. So it was actually a good challenge.
What is the biggest accomplishment of your career to date?
When I won the Aesthetic Dentistry Awards for facial aesthetics.
That was a real wow moment. I never thought a girl coming from Italy with no connection whatsoever could win.
I didn’t know anyone. Instead I just worked hard and uploaded my cases – and I won.
I thought you needed to know someone to win. So I was so happy that I won. It was amazing, I was so excited.
How does facial aesthetics enhance the smile makeover? What treatment makes the biggest difference?
If I have to pick one, it’s treating the gummy smile.
I get so many cases or even cases referred by my colleagues where you can make the most beautiful veneers or you can have the most beautiful case finished.
However, if the lip line is not where it should be, eg through hyperactive muscles, it won’t be as good.
It’s not your fault as a dentist. But the case will never look as good and the patient is disappointed, thinking: ‘I paid so much money’.
The veneers are amazing, there’s nothing wrong with them. But it’s actually the soft tissues that are not where they should be.
So I think gummy smile then lip fillers, nose-to-mouth line fillers, and marionette lines. Again, once you fix something, you see something else. And again, you can have the most beautiful smile but if the surroundings are not looking nice, it can ruin everything.
If you were to be able to have anybody in the world dead or alive as a dinner guest, who would it be and why?
I would choose Barack Obama.
I think it would be a very interesting chat. He would be an interesting person to talk to. I like him very much, everything about him.
What is something that you’re most grateful for in this world and why?
My boys, my kids, one hundred per cent.
My two boys, although I could never be a stay-at-home mom. I studied so hard to do what I do and I absolutely love my job.
But when I come home, there’s nothing like my kids.
I always say money is no object, or if I had all the time in this world I would have four or five kids. But I think I’d really just like to have as many as possible in my lifetime because it’s just the most beautiful thing.
So definitely my kids.
Talk to me about your work life balance. How are you able to manage everything?
I’m not going to lie. It’s tough. Every day is a challenge, every day I feel like I’m not doing anything well. I’m just trying to do everything.
There’s this guilt with whatever I do. This is mum’s guilt, or guilt of not being with my kids enough, or guilt that I should be more involved in my business.
I think the key is you can have it all but not at the same time. You can have kids and you can have a career, but something has to sacrifice for something.
For example, my business is obviously not having its best time right now. I’m sacrificing my business. But then I’m making amazing memories with my boys, because I’ve never really been with them every single day.
So I think you have to realise that you can have it all for naught at the same time.
I try to work part time. So I’ve got three or four days a week when I can work on my business. When I’m there, I’m one hundred per cent focused on my business. And when I’m at home, I’m a mum and I’m really present.
Sometimes I find the days that I’m not working, when I’ve got less patients, I think I actually feel I’m a better mum when I come from work, because I can’t wait to see them and I’m really with them.
But it’s a daily struggle.
What one piece of advice would you give to your younger self or to younger dentists just starting off?
I would say don’t worry too much. Everything will work out fine.
Just follow what you love, listen to your heart and do what your passion is – whatever that might be.
It might be oral surgery, it might be periodontics, it might be orthodontics, or it might be facial aesthetics. It doesn’t matter.
Don’t think about the field in which you can get the best return. Just follow what you love.
Once you do, people will feel that immediately and everything will just come easier. You just become naturally successful and you will do it well.
Just go for it. Don’t worry about how you are going to get there, because sometimes the path of how you’re going to get there is very different to what you imagined.
Be patient, but work from your heart.
You can find more about Dr Nina Bal on facialsculpting.com.
Or follow Nina on Instagram.com/drninafacialsculpting.