When Heather Crockett-Washington, DDS, studied dental anxiety for her senior psychology project, she learned that most people did not share her view that a trip to the dentist was like going to a spa. After two years as an NFL cheerleader for the Cincinnati Bengals, Heather earned her DDS at The Ohio State University College of Dentistry and was a student in the AP MPH program in the Social and Behavioral Sciences track in 2010-11.
Heather loves the way public health marries psychology and dentistry and envisions a career that mixes clinical dentistry and public health leadership. “In addition to providing individual patient care, I want to make a difference on an aggregate level,” she says. Her experiences in the field validate that goal. For example, working in a prison, she saw patients who at age 35 or 40 had never been treated by a dentist. And while performing general dental care at a Level I trauma center in Dayton, OH, she routinely treated emergency department patients for toothaches. “Many people do not have dental insurance, but emergency visits are covered by medical insurance – at much greater cost,” she explains.
These and other disparities have captured Heather’s attention, especially since the number one chronic pediatric disease is dental caries. As a result, children miss school or can’t concentrate because of the pain. “People don’t understand that dental caries are the result of a bacterial disease process.” The cavity-causing bacteria are often transmitted from mother to child through shared eating utensils. The same bacteria have been shown to play a role in heart disease and diabetes. Education and prevention are key says Heather. “If people realized this is an infectious and transmissible disease, they’d take it more seriously.”
One of the aspects of the Yale AP MPH program that Heather particularly appreciates is the networking. The group is small and its students are from a variety of professions. “We learn from each other; it is a cooperative spirit.” Following graduation, Heather completed a pediatric dentistry residency.