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Tooth Talk: Dr. Colleen Greene shares unique perspective on social justice, dentistry, public health

Episode comes amid protests over George Floyd's death, COVID-19 pandemic

June 17, 2020

By Kimber Solana

Photo of Dr. Greene's family
Family: Dr. Colleen Greene shares her views on social justice, dentistry and public health from a unique perspective of a public health dentist and as a parent to two young adopted children: 3-year-old Domonick, whose biological father is of Mexican heritage, and 2-year-old Tyrika, who is black.

When Dr. Colleen Greene and her husband adopted their 2-year-old daughter Tyrika in October 2019, some people brought up the idea of changing her name.
   
“One reflection I have as a white person and as a transracial parent is I am glad we chose to maintain the identity [Tyrika] was given at birth by her mother, who loves her so much and chose to have her,” Dr. Greene said.
   
“We know the impact of a name can lead to different judgments,” she added. “And we know that not every person who may have a perception about [the name] Tyrika versus a Dominic, or Tyrika versus a Heather, we know that not each of those people are necessarily racist. But what is being discussed this week that I’m encouraged by is this concept of anti-racism.”
   
The names of her children were among the things Dr. Greene, a pediatric dentist at Children’s Wisconsin in Milwaukee, shared in the latest episode of Tooth Talk, the ADA’s biweekly podcast series from the American Dental Political Action Committee. The episode covered a range of topics related to impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on dentistry and the nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd,
   
“It’s a really stressful time, but I’m hopeful this keeps people connected to building curiosities, and asking awkward questions, and agreeing to be on podcasts when I’m embarrassed that I could say something tremendously offensive, but I hope people will correct me as I continue willfully making the best choices I can,” said Dr. Greene, who also serves as a member of the ADA New Dentist Committee.
   
Dr. Greene offered her views on social justice, dentistry and public health from a unique perspective of a public health dentist and as a parent to two young adopted children: 3-year-old Domonick, whose biological father is of Mexican heritage, and 2-year-old Tyrika, who is black.
   
“In my work as a parent and as a dentist, the simplest example of my daughter’s first name — being more telling of her heritage — needs to be associated with strength and beauty and vitality, and not with limits, restrictions or prejudice,” Dr. Greene said. “This is not to say my husband and I have made all the right decisions. We have so much to learn.”
   
Dr. Greene also shared the personal story of their journey in deciding to become parents through the foster care system and their decision to adopt; the concept of “white passing” when it comes to their son, Domonic; and offering ways on how other dentists can help improve their respective communities.
   
“I would encourage, especially white people, to try to separate out their discomfort and defensiveness, and instead talk to people and build relationships who have had really different experiences than your own,” she said.

Tooth Talk, which features interviews with prominent players in the dental industry, is designed to keep dentists and dental professionals informed on all the latest news in Washington. The show tackles everything from important dental legislation to organized dentistry’s role in advocacy.

“We usually keep Tooth Talk ‘light,’ but like everyone else have been deeply affected by the murder of George Floyd. Appropriately, this show is more serious in nature,” according to the episode description. “We hope you are safe and well and know you will enjoy hearing from Dr. Greene.”
   
Tooth Talk is hosted by Sarah Milligan, director of political affairs for ADPAC, and Peter Aiello, senior manager of grassroots education & digital advocacy for ADPAC.
   
To listen to the podcast, visit the Tooth Talk website and subscribe. ADPAC invites listeners to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released.