When you say “yes” frequently, it helps if you really enjoy what you are agreeing to. This has been Dr. Emily Hahn’s saving grace ever since she was a child growing up in Southern Illinois, in the Metro East area that encompasses parts of suburban St. Louis.
“I’ve always been someone who’s been a yes person — so an over-involved person,” she said with a laugh. “I was that embarrassing person where you look at the yearbook and the number of pages they’re on is a lot. In every club and just very, very over-involved. I just enjoy being busy and being a part of things.”
Being part of things encompassed participation in the performing arts, including dance and theater, since childhood and through high school.
“I played Annie when I was 11. That’s my one fun fact,” Dr. Hahn said.
Later, she also was active in Greek letter organization activities and a lot of philanthropic activities.
Being “an extrovert and a joiner who did well in school” has carried her towards many accomplishments, including being recognized as a recipient of an ADA 10 Under 10 Awards for 2021.
Dr. Hahn said yes to dentistry early in life, although she initially wanted to pursue the performing arts. She settled for incorporating her theatrical talents into her dental career — sort of, that is.
“I can just sing to my patients while I work,” she said. “It’s all a performance every day.”
She knew at 16 that she specifically wanted to be a pediatric dentist. She was on a pre-dental track at Marquette University, where she went as both an undergrad and for dental school, from which she graduated in 2012.
When she was 18, she started working with Dr. Andrew Kim as a dental assistant. Thanks to his mentorship, Dr. Hahn was able to forge a relationship with her local children’s hospital, where she treats patients with special needs, specifically those with medical complexities.
“He’s at Children’s, and he’s closing in on retirement,” Dr. Hahn said. “He’s the one who got me on board.”
Today, she is doubly employed at St. Louis Children's Hospital and in her own private practice, Skyview Pediatric Dentistry. Dr. Hahn launched her practice in Town and Country, Missouri, five months before the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down major aspects of American society.
“Access to care is really terrible for kids with special needs,” she said, “especially kids who are on state insurance, and being a champion for those people who don’t have access is something I really care about and [I’m] trying to figure out how, in a private practice, can you see those kids who have the greatest disease burden. How can you encourage other people to do that?”
“Unfortunately, they usually go together,” Dr. Hahn said. “I think that access is most challenging, especially, I would say, in rural areas. It’s really, really tough. Southern Illinois really struggles with access to care and there are just not enough providers to give care to those patients.”
The yes trajectory also keeps Dr. Hahn pretty active in organized dentistry, where she aims to find remedies to solve these socioeconomic challenges.
“I just think that we need to try to work harder as a profession to serve all patients at all times, not just at Missions of Mercy and things like that. I think they are great events,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong. But, dental homes is what I preach a lot about.”
Dr. Hahn is active in organized dentistry roles with the Greater St. Louis Dental Society (serving on the Board of Directors for the West County District among other committees), the Missouri Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and the Missouri Dental Association.
She volunteers often with “Parents as Teachers,” a program in Missouri where school districts use home visits to train parents on being their child’s first educators.
“They do evaluations until your child is 3 years old on making sure you’re hitting milestones and you have the resources you need,” Dr. Hahn said. “So, it’s not just a pediatrician you’re relying on; it’s also someone from the school district, and it’s really cool. I did that for my son.”
Through participation in the program as an expectant mother, Dr. Hahn eventually became involved as a presenter to parent-educators on dental care for babies and children.
“I’m one of their ongoing speakers about teeth,” she said. “It’s just something that no one talks about and pediatricians have so many things to talk about. That’s where it’s really big for us to talk about intervention and prevention. It may not be a dentist getting to them, but at least it’s someone in their house teaching them what needs to change. It’s a different mode.”
Dr. Hahn’s late parents are her biggest heroes. They got to see her become a dentist, but passed away before getting to see her launch her private practice. It seems they would be happy to know she’s enjoying that endeavor.
“I was very fortunate,” Dr. Hahn said. “I didn’t have parents who pushed, pushed, pushed. They kind of were like, ‘All right, Emily: Go!’ I think not being hindered by my yes-ness or being shamed for saying yes to everything was really big. I think that’s important. My Dad always used to ask, ‘Are you having fun?’ He’d say, ‘Try your best; but, are you having fun?’ And, ‘As long as you put fun with it, it makes everything better’.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Hahn, who was expecting a baby boy when discussing her career for this story, enjoyed being out and about with her husband and their now 3-year-old son.
“Pre-COVID, we traveled and we went out to eat,” she said. “We liked going out to restaurants. Both of us are social people. We like hanging out with our friends. So COVID’s really stunk.”