Happy Black History Month! My name is Beryl Otchere and I am a general dentist, wife, mom of two, and blogger/content creator for my blog “Bloom, Beryl” where I encourage my readers to bloom and grow regardless of where they are planted. My family is from Ghana, West Africa and I grew up in and also attended college in Dallas, TX. I later went to dental school in Houston, TX and graduated in 2019. This piece was written for the newsletter of the San Antonio District Dental Society for black history month and is a glimpse into my journey to dentistry as a black female, one of the most under-represented groups in dentistry.
My journey to dentistry began with the many dental procedures that I needed as a teen, including impacted canine exposure and ortho treatment to bring this canine into alignment. At that time, I became fascinated with the field of dentistry and all that could be done to improve a person’s smile. A large part of my personal confidence today is the smile that my orthodontist achieved for me years ago. As I transitioned into college as a pre-dental student, this is when I finally got to see dentistry firsthand and realized how much I could impact my future patients by relieving pain, creating beautiful smiles, and building confidence. All along my journey to dentistry, many people inspired me, especially fellow African-American female dentists. We comprise less than 3% of practicing dentists, so it’s nice to be able to look up to those of us who have made it.
I had pleasure of shadowing Dr. Kellie Johnson in Arlington, TX for over a year during my undergrad and she inspired me tremendously. Her beautiful practice is overflowing with patients who love and trust her with their smiles. She’s one of those dentists that does a little bit of everything and does it all with excellence. And she truly makes all her patients feel welcome and comfortable. Seeing Dr. Johnson practice helped me to envision myself as a dentist one day, and even as a practice owner. Diversity in dentistry is important because representation matters. There are many young people just waiting for someone to believe in them or waiting to see role models that look like them.
While in dental school, I learned about Ida Gray who was the first African-American dentist. She was born in 1867 and took an interest in dentistry while working in the office of Dr. Jonathan Taft. He was a mentor to her and instrumental in helping her get into dental school. When she graduated, she was the first African-American to practice dentistry in the nation. She set up her practice in Cincinnati, OH and saw patients of various races and ages. Her patient’s raved about how friendly and gentle she was and even kids loved to see her. As an African-American female dentist, she’s been extremely inspirational to me and to many others as well. Her story shows that no matter the odds or the challenges, if you are determined, you will succeed.
Now, in my third year of practicing, I still endeavor to be the kind of dentist Ida Gray was, gentle, kind, and willing to work hard to provide the best care for my patients. I'm so grateful for the privilege to make my patients smile every day, all while constantly exposing them to black excellence.
For all my African-American future dentists out there, just know that it IS possible and you CAN do it. Black history month is a great opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come as a people and how much farther we have to go. As we continue to pursue our dreams and excel, we are creating black history and inspiring the next generation, just like Ida Gray and Dr. Johnson did for me.
Author - Beryl
Beryl has a passion for writing pieces that uplift, inspire, and encourage you to bloom. She's been blogging since October 2018.