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Smile, you're going to be a dentist

ADA Foundation grants 54 dental students scholarships to support their studies


Mr. Hernandez

Ms. Pass

Ms. Truong
A smile, it's been said, is a curve that sets everything straight. But it was the lack of a proper smile that led 2012-13 ADA Foundation Scholarship Program winner Gustavo Hernandez straight to dentistry.

"In my freshman year of undergrad school, I had Bell's palsy where I lost control of half my face," said Mr. Hernandez, 29. "Thankfully, it was only temporary."

For three months, the right side of his face simply would not cooperate. "When I couldn't smile, I thought, 'This is the worst feeling in the world, not being able to smile.' I considered how much I took my smile for granted. I appreciated getting it back."

Mr. Hernandez, one of 54 dental students awarded 2012-13 ADAF predoctoral scholarships, didn't want to see anyone else go without his or her smile. "I am so thankful that I got mine back," he said. "I thought, 'I need to do this for other people. I need to be helping other people out.' That kind of started me on my path to the dental field."

Personal experience with dentistry in her youth was also pivotal for scholarship winner Lauren Pass, 26. She is considering pursuing orthodontics after dental school, an interest spurred by years of childhood corrective oral procedures.

"I had a lot of ortho growing up," Ms. Pass said. "I had braces and a face bow. It was reverse-pull headgear. I had my gums cut to show more of my crown on my teeth because my gums were too big. It was a bunch of stuff that I had to go through to get a nice smile."

Mr. Hernandez, who is a second-year dental student at University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine, and Ms. Pass, a second-year dental student at Virginia Commonwealth University School of Dentistry, were two recipients of 19 scholarships made to underrepresented minority dental students from among the 54 total.

ADA Foundation scholarships are awarded to second-year, predoctoral dental students and include both dental students and underrepresented minority dental students. Additionally, from the entire pool of applicants, up to four winners are granted scholarships named and funded in honor of Dr. Robert B. Dewhirst and Robert J. Sullivan. All scholarships are $2,500.

The scholarships can help alleviate some of the financial challenges that come with pursuing a dental education. "The scholarship definitely allows me to not focus so much on the financial burden of dental school," Ms. Pass said. "It lightens the load just a bit. Even though it may not be some extraordinary amount of money, anything counts. I'm truly grateful for whatever I get." 

Mr. Hernandez, who said he is a first-generation college student, also finds the scholarship to be a relief financially: "The price of school is going up and up every year," he said. "Tuition increases happen quite frequently. It's helping me to not worry about the financial aspect of my education. It'll let me focus on studying most of all."

Scholarship winner Thuyvi Amy Truong, a second-year student at Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health, is a first-generation American pursuing dentistry and is dependent on her individual ability to finance her education. Her parents came to the United States more than 35 years ago following the Vietnam War, she said. They didn't speak English and the only skills they had to ply were farming and those for "mundane jobs."

"They wanted nothing more than to provide my siblings and me with more opportunities to lead a better life than they did," said Ms. Truong, 28. "They worked very hard and stressed the importance of education, but they could not provide everything. I excelled in school but attending college seemed like an impossibility as a higher education was not affordable for my family.

 "Through financial aid, student loans and scholarships, such as those provided by the ADA Foundation, obtaining a higher education became manageable. The scholarship that I was awarded gives me hope that there is help out there and gives me a sense of community and unity within the dental profession. I am extremely grateful for the kindness and generosity of the ADA and its donors."

To make donations to the ADA Foundation Predoctoral Dental Student Scholarship Program, visit www.adafoundation.org.