interview by Aneta Doncheva, Carrot Solutions; photography by Iliya Dimitrov

Aligners are the best way to straighten your teeth without anyone noticing, says orthodontist Dr Neli Djurkova

dr nely djurkova art dent clinic

When beautiful and healthy smile is concerned, Dr Neli Djurkova is one of the best specialists around to ask for advice and help. She is the second postgraduate from Bulgaria to study and graduate in the prestigious Faculty of Dental Medicine at the Tel Aviv University, Israel. Now she is mother of three and one of the leading orthodontists in Bulgaria. Dr Djurkova has rich experience in invisible orthodontic treatment and is one of the four Platinum Elite Invisalign Providers in Bulgaria. She works not only in Plovdiv, but also Veliko Tarnovo.

Dr Djurkova, how did you decide to become an orthodontist?

My father is a gastroenterologist and my mother is an orthodontist, but they have never insisted that I should follow their path. However, as a child, I used to frequently go with my mother to the Dental Faculty of Plovdiv's Medical University. The desire to become a dentist came naturally to me. I started taking lessons very early, probably two years before the entry exams at the Medical University. I was accepted with top grades, I am still proud with this achievement.

Of course, I owe a lot to my parents, who built their names and careers from scratch and are now established professionals. I have never used their contacts to advance my own career, but I value what I learnt from them and I realize how important the environment I grew up in affected my life. When you are dedicated to medicine, you take your job as a cause, as something that transcends what happens in the dental office from 8 to 5. This, to a significant degree, influenced my choice of profession.

Dr Neli Djurkova Art Dent Clinic

I did not have a second thought about enrolling at Plovdiv's Medical University, but as a student at the Dental Faculty I needed some time before choosing orthodontics as my specialty. I fell in love with this field in dentistry in my third and fourth year.

How did you become a postgraduate in Tel Aviv?

The summer after I graduated the Medical University, together with Dr Vasil Angelov, my boyfriend at that time and now my husband, I went on a vacation to Israel. We visited the Tel Aviv University and were impressed by it. But studying there was too expensive. A year later my parents asked me if I really wanted to study in Israel. When I said yes, they promised to do everything possible to fulfill my dream. I applied. The selection process is very competitive, a lot of candidates apply for just five places.

What is the most valuable experience you gained in Israel?

The fact that there are many professors aged from 30 to 90 years, as people there live long and stay active even in old age. This allows students to witness how the different generations think and perceive the same problem and gives a better perspective on the profession.

We also had regular weekly case analysis. Everyone – professors and students, would sit together and share their opinion. This shows you that it is possible to have radically different opinions on how to treat a case, and that they all could be right. It teaches you that you can achieve the same result with different means and approaches. These Thursdays were the most valuable days in my four years at the Tel Aviv University.

What was your greatest challenge during your studies in Tel Aviv?

I did not only study and practice there. In Israel, I gave birth to two of my children. This brought great happiness in my life, but it was also a personal challenge for me as in Israel, unlike Bulgaria, maternity leave for me as a student was just 3 weeks. I had to care for a newborn, and then for a toddler and another newborn, while studying. I also had to commute an hour and a half in each direction to the university.

What does it mean to be one of the only four orthodontists in Bulgaria holding the prestigious title Platinum Elite Invisalign Provider?

This is a recognition for my rich experience with the Invisalign system for so-called invisible orthodontics. To patients who seek professionals with proven experience in aligner treatment, or invisible braces as they are colloquially known, the title is a major factor when choosing an orthodontist.

Luckily, modern technologies and medicine have made orthodontic work easier; to patients they save time and spare discomfort. For example, for several years we have worked with the high-technology iTero Element scanner. With it, in a few minutes we can create a 3D visualization of the teeth's current condition and position. The scanner makes a digital imprint and spares the patients the unpleasant feeling associated with the traditional method of dental impression making. It saves time for the manufacture of the aligners while its precision allows us to provide more precise treatment, too.

Dr Neli Djurkova Art Dent Clinic

Invisible orthodontic treatment is very discrete. Does it have other advantages?

It is very convenient. When I returned to Bulgaria, I was my own first patient. I wanted to know from personal experience what patients could expect from the treatment with the system. Aligners spare the patient the unpleasant feeling of having food stuck in the braces.

Invisalign treatment has many advantages:

  • Invisible;
  • Removable;
  • No diet restrictions – patients can eat and drink all their favourite foods;
  • Easy maintenance, brushing teeth and flossing like usual;
  • No emergency visits in the clinic;
  • Very suitable for patients with periodontal disease, teeth are moving only 0.25 mm per aligner and in severe cases, this movement can be controlled or slowed down;
  • Regular visits in the clinic for check-up is once in 8-10 weeks.

before invisalign treatment

A patient with severely misaligned teeth on the upper and lower jaw before and after one-year treatment with Invisalign 

after invisalign treatment

Let's talk about Art Dent Clinic, which was founded in 2015.

We are proud that we offer a complex service thanks to the narrow specialists in each field of dentistry that work at Art Dent Clinic. We offer this because we want to provide our patients with the comfort to receive in one place all services connected to oral health and dental aesthetics. My mother and I specialize in orthodontics, and Dr Angelov is in charge of the dental treatments that are not part of ortho, such as periodontics, prosthodontics and aesthetic medicine. At Art Dent Clinic we also work with an endodontist (specialist in root canal treatment), a surgeon and a doctor who takes care of the youngest patients. We do not insist that our patients undergo all types of treatment in our clinic, but for our team it is important to be able to provide a complex service. We offer the full range of oral and dental health and aesthetic services, and we can guarantee the quality of each of those.

As you might probably guess, the name Art Dent was inspired by our family's love for art. In our clinic we have a lot of paintings, because Art Dent combines the art of painting with the art of orthodontics and dentistry. It brings together aesthetics from two different fields.

Art Dent Clinic recently introduced a new service – online consultation. What is it?

Our online consultation is for patients who need orthodontic treatment but live abroad or far from Plovdiv. For now, the service has been popular with Bulgarian expats who visit the country several times in the year. We can also consult foreigners.

Thanks to modern technologies, during the online consultation we explain to our patients what is the treatment process, how do aligners look and work, what they can expect during the treatment and what results are realistically achievable. As we need to have a preliminary idea on the patients' current condition, when they make an appointment for an online consultation, we send them instructions on how to take photos of their teeth. We examine these photos carefully before our first meeting. We answer their questions and collect all the information that we need for the correct assessment of their condition and the best way for their treatment.

This saves to patients valuable time and costs as they do not need to travel for this first consultation. Of course, when real treatment starts, they have to visit the clinic as we need to make the most correct assessment of their condition and the orthodontic deviation in order to prepare a precise and effective treatment plan.

You have extensive experience with patients in Bulgaria and Israel. What do you think about general dental culture in Bulgaria?

Unlike most countries in the developed world, in Bulgaria, dental prophylaxis is not obligatory every six months and orthodontic treatment is not covered by the national healthcare system.

In Bulgaria there are people who diligently care of their dental health, but there are many who have completely neglected their teeth. They do not clean their tartar, their periodontic condition is very bad.

Despite this, I see some general progress as more people try to be informed and to take better care of themselves. The problem is the lack of state policy promoting regular check-ups. If this happens, fewer people will need implant and prostheses treatment, and a significant part of total tooth loss cases will be avoided.

What brings you satisfaction at the end of the workday?

I feel great satisfaction when I see every day on photos how our patients' treatment progresses. At Art Dent Clinic it is a standard practice to take photos of patients' teeth each visit, to follow their progress. At the end of the workday, I sit at my desktop and input there all the photos we have received for the day. I am still hesitant to leave this task to our assistants, as it brings me satisfaction from our efforts to fix our patients' teeth. Such moments bring value to our work and profession. Every orthodontist is proud to see how they have improved the dental health and appearance, and the confidence of the patients who have trusted them.

I have a colleague in Israel, who I befriended during my studies there. We often discuss our difficult cases and achievements.

How do you relax after a busy workday?

With yoga and regular meditation. For me, this is the most effective way to relax and recharge. 


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