Kara Shannon ’14 has never feared going to the dentist. On the contrary, she grew up with an interest in dentistry, inspired by her father, who is a pediatric dentist. This summer, she is exploring her career interest through an internship at the Family & Pediatric Dental Center of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Providence, R.I.
Over the course of Shannon’s internship, she was able to explore all the facets of pediatric dentistry in a hospital setting. She shadowed different dentists, spent time in the OR, visited the Refugee Clinic at Hasbro’s Children’s Hospital, and worked on the hospital’s program in Nasoavascular Molding (NAM), a presurgical treatment for children with cleft lip and cleft palate. She also helped to prepare for the orientation of the Dental Center’s new residents, which provided her with a sense of what is expected of dentists during their residency. After becoming more familiar with the many aspects of dentistry, Shannon stated, “My time at St. Joe’s confirmed for me that . . . pediatric dentistry is what I would like to do for a living.”
During her internship Shannon gained an appreciation for what makes a great dentist. She observed, “What differentiates a good dentist from the rest is neither the amount of pressure he or she applies during an extraction nor his or her efficiency in applying sealant; it is the doctor’s scruples. Especially in pediatrics, a doctor’s attitude toward dentistry can significantly affect the quality of the care he or she provides a patient.”
In pediatric dentistry especially, she found that a significant part of this success relies on making the patient feel comfortable. When speaking to children, she explained, “A cheek block is a cheek pillow, a rubber dam is a trampoline, and sealant is a special shampoo.” By making children feel more comfortable, it’s possible to help them overcome a fear of going to the dentist. She commented, “I believe any work that is able to help a person overcome a fear is rewarding.”
As an intern, she also valued her ability to speak Spanish, which enabled her to communicate with the hospital’s many Spanish-speaking patients. Shannon remarked, “Most of the cases I saw at the clinic involved dental issues that are completely preventable . . . Thus it was important that I was able to speak Spanish because I was able to communicate information on effective oral hygiene.”
Shannon found her time visiting the Refugee Clinic to be especially rewarding. She shadowed a dentist who performed preliminary checks on refugee children who had arrived in Rhode Island. These checks were simply to determine what dental work would be necessary in the future and only took a few minutes, yet Shannon observed how important they were to the refugee families. She explained, “I was astounded to learn that this life-changing information could be available for a patient in a matter of minutes; yet it was made evident to me that some patients may never have access to those 2-3 minutes with a dentist.”
Her experience at the Refugee Clinic encouraged her to pursue non-profit dentistry in the future. While she believes she will likely continue to dental school and then into pediatric dentistry, she may explore other options such as the management side of a non-profit that provides dental care. No matter what, she is committed to pursuing her interests in dental care, children and non-profit organizations.
Shannon is a graduate of The Williams School in New London, Conn.