Dr. Gregory Dodd, a dentist at Saratoga Springs Family Dentistry and a MLMIC policyholder since 2003, recently announced that his practice will give $10,500 in scholarships to high school students interested in pursuing a career in dentistry. Dr. Dodd plans to offer the scholarship annually.

So far, Dr. Dodd has received applications from all seven participating high schools— an exciting feat considering this is the first year a scholarship specifically for the dental field has been offered in any of the schools. The recipients can use the scholarship for any educational program required to achieve their desired goal in the dental field.

To apply, students must write an essay on what inspired them to pursue dentistry, whether they are interested in becoming a dental assistant, hygienist, lab technician or dentist.

“We are looking for students who, through their essay, show a desire to be in the field and an understanding of the hard work, compassion, empathy and dedication needed to succeed,” says Dr. Dodd.

Learn more about Dr. Dodd and his passion for cosmetic, reconstructive and rehabilitative dentistry in the following Q&A.

Q: Why do you think more young people should consider a career in dentistry?

Dr. Dodd: Dentistry offers opportunities and requires different skillsets from medicine that may appeal to more students if they were exposed to the field at an earlier age. The profession can be very artistic, patient-centered and hands-on. I hope that these scholarships will help to start conversations about dentistry at the grade school level.

Q: What do you love about dentistry?

Dr. Dodd: In dental school, I saw my first copy of the Journal of Cosmetic Dentistry and I marveled at the results — they were so perfect. At that time, it still took me four hours and two appointments to do a simple filling, so the idea of being able to recreate nature so seamlessly was incomprehensible. As a student, I was just simply worried about finishing the procedure with an acceptable and functional outcome for the patient. I wasn’t worried about layering different shades, developing secondary anatomy and making sure the restorations were truly representative of nature. My goal was to become a talented cosmetic dentist.

Today, I have built a practice focusing on cosmetic, reconstructive and rehabilitative dentistry. I love the challenge of restoring patients to their original and often improved smile. Increasingly, my focus is trying to achieve these results with minimal tooth structure removal. I’ve never enjoyed extractions or root canals, so I don’t do them, which is another thing I love about dentistry — it allows you the opportunity to carve out your own niche and focus on the things you enjoy and where you can excel.

Q: You started dental school after working as a scientist for a few years. What’s the value of taking a break between undergrad and dental school? What are the biggest challenges?

Dr. Dodd: After college, I planned to study for the medical school entrance exam. Dentistry wasn’t on my radar. I took a job as a scientist at a large company that manufactured many dental and household products. I had significant success with multiple patents for novel dental inventions, including innovations that led to the launch of a new version of Sensodyne toothpaste in the U.S. and the release of a prescription Stannous Fluoride gel called Vision. Eventually, I rose to the role of senior scientist, but I had learned I had a passion and talent for the science of dentistry and decided to apply to dental school instead.

If not for taking the year off after college, I wouldn’t have experienced life in a professional research setting, discovered the incredible science that goes into dentistry and applied to dental school. The value of taking time between undergrad and grad school is that it allows you to experience opportunities with a different mindset than before college. I believe it makes you more open to engage in paths that may have been foreboding prior to undergrad. I also think spending time in a professional environment, seeing the hard work required and experiencing the 8-5 grind every day can make you more determined and focused moving forward.

The biggest challenge to taking time off is getting back into the mindset of studying constantly. In my case, by the time I went back to dental school, I was married, I owned my own home and I had real world obligations. When classes ended, rather than go immediately to the library or lab, I had to go home and mow the lawn. It became a harder balancing act than just simply being able to focus on being a student. 

Q: What do you wish you knew about dentistry as an undergrad?

Dr. Dodd: As an undergrad, I wish I’d had more exposure to the dental profession as an option for students interested in the sciences and the medical profession. All I knew about dentistry was from the limited times my parents brought me to the dentist as a child and the horrifying images of dentistry you see in TV and movies. I would have liked to have someone explain the profession, the specialties, what’s required to enter the field and what separates it from medicine and how is it similar.

For too long, dentistry has had the stigma that it’s a consolation prize for those graduates that couldn’t pursue medicine. Thankfully, I believe, we are seeing that change. Dentistry is becoming, for many students entering undergrad, the primary goal. I hope these scholarships and the exposure will remind even younger students that dentistry is a vital and necessary specialty that can provide a wonderful balance between art and science.

Q: What advice would you give a current dental student?

Dr. Dodd: If I could offer advice to a current dental student, I would tell them to take the Dental Materials course more seriously. It’s scientific and often under-valued, but in practice, you rely on these materials every day. Your patients rely on you knowing the “when” and “why” to use the best materials. 

I would also tell dental students to pursue what interests them and not what they believe offers them the greatest stature or financial success after graduation. If you are happy doing your job, that will translate to your staff, patients and eventually into growth and financial success. Don’t feel pressured to enter a specialty because a graph of average salaries shows that specialists earn more than general dentists. Don’t pursue a path just to have one more degree higher than your other classmates. Pursue a path that you enjoy and where you truly want to excel. Success comes in many ways — choose what makes you happy and the rest will follow.

Q: We see that you are a member of many dental societies and academies, including the ADA, NYSDA, the 4th District Dental Society and more! What do you consider to be the value of participating in organized dentistry?

Dr. Dodd: I believe participating in organized dentistry helps to give you a sense of community and comradery. As a dentist it’s easy to become myopic if you don’t push yourself to be around other dentists and listen to their thoughts and insights. Organized dentistry helps you to remember that you are not on an island in this profession, there is a large community available to assist your personal and professional growth.

Thank you, Dr. Dodd, for sharing your insights with us!

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