From Dental Assistant to Dental Therapist, One Student’s Journey

Dana Obey is a dental therapy student at Skagit Valley College’s first dental therapy education cohort and is poised to become the first dental therapist to work in Michigan. She is a part of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians. Before her educational journey, she worked in retail for ten years to support her children. Dana wanted to make a stable career change and made the transition to working in dentistry. She was a dental assistant for 13 years, working for various private practices for doctors and dentists, and worked at the Health Department for three years. 

She became interested in dental therapy after hearing about free CE courses from the dental hygienists she worked with. During her time as a dental assistant, she mentored students on how to work with dental assistants and dentists. She inspired many students and taught them practical skills. Many of her colleagues encouraged her to attend dental school and further her education. Dr. William Pruden and Dr. William Ackerman, whom Dana worked with, recognized her potential and encouraged her to begin her education in dentistry. Dana is pursuing a career in dental therapy because she wants to be a mentor and role model for others and make a difference in her community. 

Dana describes the new learning environment as challenging and exciting. The transition from traditional to online learning after being out of school for a while was difficult for her. The technology and facilities are “phenomenal and new.” At school, she works with various tooth models and mannequins. Her day starts with coffee and different classes taught by new doctors every few hours—the second half of her day is spent at the lab. In addition, a self-help coordinator offers yoga classes at the college to provide stress relief for dental therapy students. Her favorite part about dental therapy school is learning about teeth anatomy and working with clay models. As a previous dental assistant, learning in-depth about the concepts she was curious about and familiar with was exciting, as dentistry has many layers. 

Although all the technology and new facilities fascinated Dana, her favorite part about her dental therapy education is the staff. In her classes, she learns from doctors who put a lot of time and effort into mentoring students and ensuring they succeed and feel reassured. “The support system at Skagit Valley College keeps me going,” Dana states. 

While she feels a lot of pressure and excitement about being the first dental therapist to work in Michigan, she states, “I want to be an asset for the facility or practice I work for in the future.” Seeking advice on the process is sometimes difficult; however, the instructors at Skagit Valley College do their best to answer questions and guide dental therapy students through everything. Dana tries her best to absorb all the knowledge she can during this educational process. 

She would advise aspiring dental therapists to have some dental experience, whether as a lab technician, dental assistant, or sales representative; any prior experience within the dental field is beneficial. Dana also emphasizes the importance of doing your homework and research and ensuring you have a financial plan to embark on your dental therapy career. Moreover, she mentions the importance of making sure your dental therapy program is transferable in your state and checking if there is accreditation. Finally, she states, “If you love helping people, just do it.” Dental therapy is the career path for you if you want to make a difference in your community. 

According to Misty Davis, Oral Health Program Manager at MCPA, “Dana is a bright, positive leader within her class and community, and by enrolling as our state’s first dental therapy student, she is a leader within Michigan’s dental sector at large. Her passion for oral health and dedication to helping others, especially individuals in disadvantaged circumstances, make her an ideal person to kickstart Michigan’s dental therapy workforce. Many, many people will benefit from Dana’s commitment to becoming a dental therapist.”

Dana Obey’s anticipated graduation date is December 2024, and she looks forward to positively impacting the dental therapy community.

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