Finding her fit in dental therapy

Sometimes all it takes are a few encouraging words to alter the trajectory of a young person’s life. For Jackie Callaway-Campbell, those came from a manager when she worked as a dental assistant in New Castle, Del.

In addition to treating patients for a school-based preventive dental services organization, Callaway-Campbell recruited volunteer dentists, drove the clinic’s mobile dental unit, presented at schools, navigated the insurance industry, volunteered at health awareness events, and more. In a conversation with that manager, she learned about the emerging field of dental therapy and a unique program 1,200 miles away at the University of Minnesota. 

"I decided I wanted to go further in dentistry," says Callaway-Campbell, who is entering her third and final year of the  dental hygiene/dental therapy dual degree program  at the School of Dentistry. "I was drawn to the public health field and liked different aspects of dental hygiene and dentistry. So when I heard about dental therapy, it sounded like a perfect fit for me."

With her dual degrees, Callaway-Campbell will be able to perform all the treatments of a dental hygienist, plus serve patients more broadly with drilling and filling cavities, installing temporary crowns, extracting baby teeth and providing oral health prevention and education under the supervision of a dentist.

She arrived in Minnesota for the first time at age 25, not knowing what to expect. Accustomed to hard work and long hours, she assumed she could work full time while attending school. But juggling work at Target with a rigorous academic and clinical schedule was overwhelming.

"I had to learn that I was a student first, and an employee second," she said. "I was stubborn at first and didn’t want to admit that I could not do it all. That first semester, I sometimes walked into class not even knowing we had a test that day."

Callaway-Campbell said her tight knit and supportive group of eight classmates, along with a scholarship she received from Delta Dental of Minnesota Foundation, helped her succeed.

"I cherish my classmates," she said. "They became my support system. Times where I may have fallen or slipped through the cracks they have been there to support me and vice versa. We lean on each other. I have a community here."  

Callaway-Campbell says she appreciates the role she will play in reaching underserved communities. Through the program, she gained experience at clinics in Willmar, Hibbing, and the Twin Cities. She hopes to find a public health-oriented position in Minnesota after graduation next year, where she can address the oral health needs of people who need it most.


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