Dentistry student wants to bring smiles to the world



As a volunteer at community dental clinics, “I felt like I made a difference in the lives of so many people just by giving a few hours of my time,” says College of Dentistry student Danté Brown. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin


Dentistry student Danté Brown has dental fluorosis, a condition of tooth enamel that causes discoloration or little holes in the teeth.

“I was self-conscious about it,” he said. “It wasn’t a nice smile.”

Fortunately, his dentist was able to cure the problem. “It helped me feel better about myself,” Brown said. “It really changed my life.”

Making others feel the same way is what he likes about dentistry. “In America, people are really gung-ho about their smile,” he said. “I enjoy helping people feel better about themselves in that way.”

Brown is such a promising practitioner of his craft that he recently received UIC’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship.

Given to five professional students, the award is worth $5,000. It recognizes outstanding minority students who’ve shown high academic achievement in fields where they’re underrepresented, along with strong community and campus service. A 4.0 GPA is required.


Making a difference

Every other month from the fall of 2012 through last spring, Brown did free dental work at the Community Health West Town Dental Clinic or the UIC student-run clinic at Goldie’s Place, a center for the homeless at 5705 N. Lincoln Ave.

Seeing five to 10 patients a day, Brown did fillings, applied dental sealant — a thin plastic coating for chewing surfaces — and taught oral hygiene.

“It really helped me understand the magnitude of access to care issues,” he said. “I felt like I made a difference in the lives of so many people just by giving a few hours of my time.”

This summer he began doing volunteer dentistry for United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Chicago, through Robert Rada, clinical professor of oral medicine and diagnostic sciences.

He works on adults and children, using a portable dental unit — “It’s like carrying a dental office in a box,” he said.

“Many patients in this population have short attention spans and difficulty tolerating care. I’m always humbled by the experience, and it has helped me to grow as a student dentist.”

Brown joined the Illinois National Guard in 2014. He tutors five other dentistry students and teaches in the post-baccalaureate dental anatomy course. In 2013-14 he was treasurer of the UIC chapter of the American Association of Public Health Dentistry. He is a member of the UIC chapter of the Student National Dental Association.


Change of plans

He counts his own dentist — Edward Ruiz, a 1987 graduate of the UIC College of Dentistry — as a mentor.

“When I was a sophomore I went to his office one day and told him I wanted to be a physician,” he said. “He said, ‘Why don’t you shadow me for a week?’”

The experience persuaded Brown to become a dentist instead. “I saw that he was able to value his family, have a social life and live comfortably,” the student said. “I switched gears.”

When he graduates in May, Brown will continue work he’s already begun toward a master’s degree in public health — “I’m the first student in the dental school to work on my DMD and MPH at the same time” — wrapping that up over the summer.

Then he will seek a position in a community dental clinic or federally qualified center for an underserved population.

Brown grew up in Flossmoor (no dental puns, please) and today lives in the West Loop. He enjoys watching plays and comedy performances by Second City and the Baby Wants Candy musical improv group.

The King Scholarship is only one of Brown’s awards. He also received the Urban Health Program Student Ambassador award, Amy J. Cummins Scholarship, Nuveen Award, Pierre Fauchard Academy Scholarship and Illinois National Guard Grant.

Brown is mindful that he’ll soon have a lot of student loans to start paying off. It will cost him an impressive total of $300,000 to get through dental school.

“I think long term,” he said. “You may think dentists make a lot of money, but it takes a lot of years to pay everything back.”

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