Joi Walls is in her third year of dental school and already knows what kind of dentist she wants to be: one who is personable, skilled and confident. That’s because even she knows that going to the dentist can be scary or intimidating for some patients.
“It makes me feel amazing to know that my patients trust me,” Walls told In The Know. “It makes me feel like what I’m doing is the right choice for me.”
The 24-year-old is enrolled at the School of Dentistry at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio — not too far from Houston, where she was born and raised.
“My father being a dentist and growing up in his office definitely had a huge impact on my choice to pursue dentistry,” she explained. “It’s been amazing to have my dad as a sounding board and just the support that I really need while I’m here.”
That support system is very necessary to Walls, who dubbed dental school as “not for the weak.” This is the first year where Walls is allowed to see patients or diagnose and treat dental problems — which is certainly a different type of pressure than taking exams or writing papers.
“Doing your first filing or your first scaling and root planing, you have that experience under your belt,” she said. “So, during the next one, it doesn’t feel so scary.”
As Walls has built up her skills working with patients, what she’s excited about next is ushering in the next generation of young, Black dentists.
“I think it’s less than 3 percent of all dentists in the U.S. are Black,” Walls said. “But growing up, I had a Black dentist. It’s easy to believe you can do it when you see it.”
Walls’ estimate is spot-on. According to the most recent data from the American Dental Association, Black dentists made up just 3.7 percent of the profession.
Dentistry is a field that can impact a person’s self-esteem and quality of life, so Walls takes her job very seriously.
“It makes all these years in school worth it,” she said.
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