It’s September, which means that many, if not most, dental schools are back in session, teaching, training and preparing the next generation of dentists.
ADA News asked Jackson Downey, University of Nevada, Las Vegas School of Dental Medicine, Class of 2025, why he decided to pursue dentistry.
Deciding to become a dentist has been a life-long process for me, with many factors playing into the decision.
It began when my dad, a general dentist, took me to see the Thunderbirds with his assistant’s husband who worked for the Thunderbirds. I was four years old. A day before the show, we got to go see the planes up close and even sit in the cockpit. I still have a tiny memory of thinking that if I squeezed the trigger, I would shoot the door off the hanger.
This experience instilled in me a love for planes and gave me the dream of becoming a fighter pilot. Years later, on a Boy Scout tour of Nellis Airforce Base, a F-16 pilot confirmed a worry I had in my mind. To be a fighter pilot you need perfect, uncorrected vision — something I did not have. My dream of being a fighter pilot was out the door. However, my love for planes continued with a hobby of building both scale, diecast model planes and RC flying model planes. I love using tools to create something out of all the different parts and pieces. I love making the models look exactly like the planes they are replicating. To me, the planes are a piece of art, a form of art that does not require too much creativity. There is an exact shape and form that already exists that I just need to recreate, which is perfect for my interests and abilities.
As I continued through high school and began college, while considering my future career, I realized that what my dad did as a dentist was very similar to what I loved about building model airplanes. He used his hands and tools to precisely turn broken, deficient teeth into a perfect recreation of what was originally there, all while giving people a reason to smile. This form of art, so similar to what I love about model airplanes, made me start considering becoming a dentist.
As I realized this, I also realized that I really liked the lifestyle my dad had. He only works four days a week, and work pretty much ends for him around 5 p.m. He was able to attend all my soccer and basketball games when I was kid, and even volunteered to be our middle school lacrosse coach when our original coach was leaving, and the team was going to dissolve. Having a family has always been a top priority for me, and I would like to be present in the lives of my kids, just as my dad has been present in my life. Dentistry allows for the time and income to do exactly that.
The final deciding factor for me to become a dentist happened with my future, now current, wife. She is from Ecuador, and we had a 90-day-fiance type experience. Weeks before arriving in the United States, she began having tooth pain. Luckily, she was coming here soon, and my dad was a dentist. However, she had some terrible experiences going to the dentist as a child and had a huge fear of going to the dentist.
A day after getting here to the U.S., we took a trip to my dad’s office to check out her tooth. She was shaking as we walked in. My dad quickly did an exam, took some X-rays, and realized a tooth needed to come out. He numbed her up real quick, and the tooth was out minutes later. My wife was amazed at how quick, easy and painless the experience was in comparison to her past experiences. Her relief was palpable. I was fascinated with her change in demeanor, and her changing opinion about visiting the dentist facilitated by the quality dental work provided to her by my dad. This change is something I realized I would like to facilitate in other people. Being able to help change people’s fears and negative opinions about going to the dentist through quality care is something I would enjoy doing daily. Being able to see that palpable relief in others occurring as a result of my hard work was an exciting an idea to me. With this experience, along with dentistry’s similarities to my favorite hobby and the time and money it would give me to spend with my future family, I knew that dentistry was a good career choice for me.