10 Under 10: Dr. Ashley Popejoy on working with the Special Olympics, pediatric dentistry

Photo of Dr. Popejoy and family
Love: Dr. Ashley Popejoy with her family.
Dr. Ashley Popejoy, of Nixa, Missouri, is among the recipients of this year’s 10 Under 10 awards, which recognizes new dentist who demonstrate excellence early in their careers. Serving as the director of pediatric dentistry at the Jordan Valley Community Health Center in Springfield, Missouri, Dr. Popejoy provides dental services to those from underserved backgrounds, manages staff, develops training protocols and serves as a liaison and mentor. Dr. Popejoy is also the clinical director of Special Smiles for the Special Olympics of Missouri.

Editor's note: The American Dental Association is seeking nominations through Dec. 31 to recognize 10 new dentists in 2021. Honorees will receive a $1,000 gift card and be recognized in various ADA publications and channels. For more information or to nominate a new dentist, visit ADA.org/10under10.

Dr. Ashley Popejoy simply wants to make a difference in people’s lives.

It’s the reason she decided to pursue a career in dentistry. But after volunteering with the Special Olympics of Chicago, she found a way to combine her career with a new purpose.

“I realized that my purpose was in providing care for people who, generally, don’t get the opportunity to have dental care. And it was just eye opening at what your perspective can be if you shifted a little,” she said. “There are a lot of people that need help and we can be the people who provide that for them.”

Dr. Popejoy said many individuals with special needs generally have shorter lifespans and may be under the guardianship of their parents or another caregiver for their entire life.

“And yet their joy and passion for life is unsurpassed by the rest of us who were there volunteering [at the Special Olympics],” she said.

Following her 2012 graduation from the University of Missouri at Kansas City, Dr. Popejoy went on to do a two-year, pediatric dental residency, and has been practicing since 2014. She is currently the associate director of a pediatric dental residency program at Jordan Valley Community Health Center in Springfield, Missouri.

Working with children goes back to that need of making a difference in people’s lives.

“And it’s not only keeping kids healthy, but helping them to overcome their fears of going to the dentist,” she said. “We have a lot of kiddos that come from trauma backgrounds have a lot of adverse childhood experiences.”

Her main goal includes ensuring these kids can grow into adult patients who have healthy mouths and understand how to take care of their oral health throughout their lives.

Dr. Popejoy has said that much of the work that she does falls outside of the realm of the mouth. She and her team often find themselves identifying adverse childhood experiences, and researching other resources that the patient might need such as vision exams or immunizations.

“We do a lot of almost what would be considered social work, so in addition to the dental service, we’re ensuring that our patients can see a pediatrician”, she says.
Today, Dr. Popejoy still finds time to dedicate to the Special Olympics, as she is also clinical director for the state of Missouri chapter. In her role, she, along with her residents and members of her organization, attend the regional and state games to provide dental screenings, anticipatory guidance, as well as participate in the various events.