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Q&A with 2017 Scholarship Winner Natalie Okuhara

DTA Foundation Scholarship Recipient Natalie Okuhara, University of the Pacific Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry

Dental school is a very busy time, why did you decide to commit so much of your time to helping the community?
As busy as dental school is, giving back to my community has always been one of my greatest passions and I knew that I wanted to make it a big part of my dental school experience. I enjoy dedicating my time to help my community because I believe that my work is making a positive impact and also encourages others to value and take care of their health. I feel fortunate to be able to apply my dental skills and knowledge to help those that do not have access to dental care. There is also something about connecting with patients through outreach that is very gratifying and constantly keeps me coming back for more.

What is your favorite community volunteer activity?
My favorite community volunteer activity has been working with my colleagues to teach community members about proper oral hygiene through interactive educational activities. In July, I worked with my classmates to organize an oral health fair for a nonprofit organization in San Francisco, CA called Because Justice Matters (BJM). BJM supports women and their families who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse. At the event, we educated six mothers, two teenage daughters, and eight young children on how to take care of their teeth. We did so by tailoring our educational activities to each age group. We used two different and engaging PowerPoint presentations for the mothers and for the teens in order to cater to each age group’s priorities and lifestyles. For the younger children, we provided hands-on brushing and flossing demonstrations, as well as a Dress like a Dentist station. Our participants appreciated that we worked closely with them in small groups because this helped them understand their oral health better and made the topic less intimidating. Additionally, they felt less afraid of going to the dentist and felt more empowered about caring for their oral health. It was very rewarding for me to hear their positive feedback and to have been able to change their perspective on dental care simply through our care and education.

Why do you think it’s important for the oral health profession to come together and support the community like you are doing now?
As dental professionals, we provide services to our communities that are integral to everyone’s overall health yet only we, the dental professionals, can provide them. Because of this, I believe that it is our duty to support our community’s oral health, especially those who struggle to gain access to dental care. Additionally, many people look to us as trusted partners in their health care, so it is important to show them that we care and want to help them. As a future dentist, I am thankful to be in be in a position where I can help others become healthier, more confident, and happier.

How will having this scholarship help you as you finish school?
For me, this generous scholarship has been a reminder that I am doing the right thing by doing what I love, which is both dentistry and community outreach. Through the aid of this scholarship, I will be able to pay off some of my student loans while I pursue an Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) residency after graduation. In my AEGD residency program, I look forward to continuing to treat underserved populations that lack access to dental care, as well as participating in dental community outreach through events like the California Dental Association (CDA) Cares events.

Is there a message you’d like to pass along to the people who donate to the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation and make these scholarships possible?
Thank you so much to all of the donors and supporters of the Dental Trade Alliance Foundation who made all of these scholarships possible. Your contributions are helping us become the best dentists we can be, and you have set a great example for us to follow. I hope to be in your shoes someday and provide other future dentists with the same opportunities you all have provided me. I am very grateful. Thank you again!