For some people, the word “dentist” means having teeth examined and cleanings done, an hour-long session of gentle prodding with shiny steel instruments. For others, it means the difference between a toothless, gaping smile and a healthy mouth. Adam Awtrey is prepared to work with both ends of the spectrum – and everybody in between.
“I’ve seen the need for dental care, both abroad and in the urban and rural communities. People need dental care and dental education,” he said.
Adam is currently a student at the University of Missouri at Kansas City, getting a degree in general dentistry. But he began his journey toward dentistry well before graduate work – in fact, this particular journey began when he wasin the dentist’s chair.
“I had to get a lot of dental work done when I was a kid, and I noticed that some of my dentists and orthodontists were really good,” he said. “I saw what a difference they could make.”
From science to ethics
That desire to make a difference fueled his choice to major in biochemistry at ACU. He chose the pre-dental program partly because of the department’s outstanding academic reputation and partly because of the Christ-centered leadership exhibited by his professors.
“The classes were very well-taught. I didn’t have to re-learn anything when I got to dental school,” he said. “And the professors took a personal interest in us. They’d invite us over to their houses and check up on how we were doing with our grad school applications. They weren’t just teachers – they were great mentors and leaders.”
Adam didn’t learn just about biochemistry and dental programs, though. He also delved into the ethical considerations of the medical field in classes such as Biomedical Ethics, team-taught by Bible professor Randy Harris and biology professor Dr. Jim Nichols. Through reading essays over ethics, listening to lectures and participating in vigorous class discussions, Adam re-examined his own beliefs and considered why he held certain moral positions.
“A dental practice is also a business, and I feel that there need to have ethical boundaries in place,” he said. “But it’s not just about dentistry. These are things I can incorporate into my personal life as well.”
His professors helped solidify his beliefs and delineate the challenging boundaries between business, medicine and ethics.
“I feel like watching my professors really strengthened my faith,” he said. “I drew from their examples and how they lived.”
At UMKC, Adam is currently taking science classes and learning the basics of clinical work.
“It’s very clinically oriented,” he said. “They try to get us down in the clinic our first year. Fortunately with general dentistry, you have a big array of choices as to what you want to do.”
Helping the underserved
He’s using that clinical experience in the Kansas Search Program, which works with lower-income patients who can’t afford dental care. Dental students work for a few weeks in underserved areas with people who have difficulty obtaining adequate dental care. Adam, who has been on medical mission trips that brought dental aid to patients in the mountain areas of Honduras, is familiar with the need to use his skills to help those who need them most.
“I really want to get involved with those who can’t afford dental work, maybe through volunteering on a regular basis,” he said.
After dental school, Adam is considering moving back to Texas and gaining an associateship in a dental office before one day opening his own practice. He’d also like to work on his fluency in Spanish to better serve bilingual clients. Most of all, he wants to work with people who share his dedication to dentistry and his passion for helping those in need.
“I just want to learn from the people I work with and gain from those experiences,” he said.