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Q&A: Meharry dental student Aparecio Peggins on his path to dentistry

Mr. Peggins: ‘For me, becoming a Black dentist, I take that role on with pride’

February 26, 2021

By Racquel Coral

Photo of Mr. Peggins
Mr. Peggins: "I feel like this is my calling." 
In his journey to dentistry, Meharry Medical College dental student Aparecio Peggins has his friends — who happen to be dental students — to thank.

He was transitioning out of a Ph.D. program when his friends encouraged him to consider dentistry. What he found was an eye-opening experience, enough to make him change directions and embark on a new career path. Mr. Peggins said he found dentistry allowed him to see himself not only as leader but to be in a position to open the doors for other Black dental students who follow him.

The New Dentist News spoke with Mr. Peggins to discuss his journey, what he has learned in his time in dental school, and how he plans to influence the next generation of Black dentists.

NDN: Since deciding to switch gears and go into dentistry what have you learned?

Mr. Peggins: So the most inspiring thing for me, which is kind of powerful, is that I feel like this is my calling. I feel like this is the reason why I am on this Earth. It’s to help people brighten their smiles from a psychological perspective. From a scientific perspective it has shown me that everyone has a route that they can take, that is specifically catered toward their gifts. And for me, that's something that that I hold near and dear.

NDN: You said that you were influenced into going to dentistry by your friends who are Black dentists. What does that mean for you? What does that mean for you to see representation like that when that isn't necessarily the norm?

Mr. Peggins: I think that we’re spoiled in a sense being students at Meharry Medical College (an HBCU based in Nashville, Tennessee). But I'm also a graduate of Morehouse College (an HBCU based in Atlanta), so I’ve been spoiled and have seen Black excellence for a very long time. But I'm not naive about living in this bubble. So this means everything to me. We talk about changing the world, about changing our environments, and advancing our communities.

In a lot of different professions, there are gatekeepers in place that keep certain types of people out. And being influenced or being brought into the fold by Black dentists so freely is very impactful. No one told me that it was going to be difficult or discouraged me. They all told me that I could, and I am currently doing it. And I have all the faith to be able to continue doing it and so much more. So it's just inspiring to be fueled in such a way.

NDN: What does it mean for you in helping increase the number of Black dentists and diversifying the profession?

Mr. Peggins: I used to say is that it was a weight that I had to bear. That it was a very heavy feeling at times. But on the journey to increase or grow your confidence, you realize that not only is it a heavyweight, but it's a weight that you can carry with pride, and is a weight that I carry confidently. When I walk into a room, I feel as if I'm a representation of what a new world is coming to be. And that is a world full of diversity. A world that is full of different types of people in different professions.

A lot of responsibilities can scare people. But for me, becoming a Black dentist, I take that role on with pride. And I don't take it for granted. Mainly because I know how much responsibility I owe to the people coming behind me. The people that have gone before me are looking to us as the future. To be laying the foundation of the world that we aim to see. So it isn't a painful thing.

I know it's easy to get lost in the classwork, or the simple procedures. But it's so much larger than that. I try not to miss the forest by looking at the trees. And that's just something that I try to keep with me. Every day, as I go to school during the pandemic, I just try not to get lost in the details. I try to make sure that I see the entire picture.

NDN: How do you plan to influence the next generation of Black dental students and dentists?

Mr. Peggins: I plan to influence the next generation of Black dentists by exposing them to what it really is, and the joy that comes with helping people. I've had the honor of working in several Black-owned private practices as a demo student, as well as a pre-dental student.

Every time that I see a pediatric patient, I ask them what they would like to be. And I let them know that I was once in their shoes. Some children, of course, speak to dentistry as being scary and not having good experiences. But I think that being a joyous person, I can expose them to a different light. I can expose them to a different culture of dentistry. And I think that that's very influential to let someone know that the world is at their feet, the world is their oyster.

They have so many options that aren't based on poverty and oppression. Being able to show not only the youth but people who are past adolescence and into adulthood that the avenue is always there for them. So just exposure and speaking life into a generation and giving them a platform. I think that exposure and being able to visualize something is the number one step in influencing a generation of people who would continue to be influential.