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My Life & Times in Dentistry

Oct. 1, 2004
We are blessed with the abilities and talents to make a real difference in people's lives by performing dentistry.

We are blessed with the abilities and talents to make a real difference in people¿s lives by performing dentistry. ... Have passion in your life for your loved ones and your profession, and live each day enjoying everything you do. We have a short life to share, so let's do it with as much enthusiasm and kindness as we possibly can manage.

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I cannot remember when it was not a goal of mine to become a dental surgeon. My first dental encounter was at the tender age of 9. Coming from an economically challenged family of six children, a trip to the dentist was not an “every six month” ritual. Not to mention that my mother was petrified of the dentist! I, on the other hand, was enthralled by my first dental experience, and from that day forward vowed that this was what I was going to be when I grew up. Obviously, I had no clue as to the challenges involved in such a lofty goal. Childhood ignorance truly was bliss!

I was born in Massachusetts but spent the majority of my life in Southern California, where a person’s lack of imagination is the only obstacle to success. I embarked on the path to becoming a dental professional when I was in high school by accepting a part-time position as a dental assistant in a general dentistry practice. I was trained on the job and later took the required classes to receive my Registered Dental Assistant license.

Over the next several years, I worked my way up to office administrator, playing an instrumental role in tripling the size of the doctor’s practice. Concurrently, I worked to put myself through an undergraduate education, which resulted in an associate of arts degree in general education and a bachelor of arts degree in biology.

I knew how my practical experience in a functioning dental practice would ultimately benefit both me and my patients. I encourage every prospective dentist to follow a path of work experience in her chosen area of interest. Not only was my work experience of value when I opened my own practice, but I was amazed at how well I could relate to my staff members, having been in their shoes at one time. I was dismayed to discover how many of my fellow dental students did not go on to practice dentistry after receiving their doctorates; they simply did not enjoy the field once they began working in the real world.

Dental school transplanted me into the heart of the United States - Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. I received an incredible education at Creighton, not only in dentistry but in social acceptance. In the late 1980s, Nebraskans were not quite as liberal as folks in California. It was very apparent that each of the 10 women in our class of 82 was preventing a man from his indoctrinated right to a seat in the profession of dentistry. The women’s locker room was a make-shift indentation of the men’s locker room with openings through to the ceiling. This male/female class distinction came as a shock to me. The key here was not to be bullied by shallow thinkers, and to excel far beyond the above-average male student. As it turned out, it was not that difficult! Of course, there were those wonderful professors who defied the status quo of feminine bigotry and remain long-term friends of mine to this day. Creighton University has come a long way by remodeling my alma mater into a beautiful, modern dental school - right down to an actual women’s locker room!

It was inevitable that the “handicap” of becoming a strong female health professional would lead me to an organization that was created specifically for women in dentistry. I first became actively involved in the American Association of Women Dentists as a student member in 1986, and 11 years later became its president. AAWD has given a substantial voice to the woman dentist around the world and has been instrumental in the advancement of our gender in this profession. With my roots of security in the workplace, professional and personal support from the dental community came from my mentors with my first introduction to the AAWD. I cherish those experiences and friendships to this day.

After obtaining my doctorate of dentistry in 1988, I returned to Southern California. To satisfy my desire of broadening my expertise into trauma and forensics, I embarked on a trauma rehabilitation surgical residency at Rancho Los Amigos and Los Angeles County Medical Centers. What an eye opener that was! My experiences during that year-long program and in a three-year externship at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital in Santa Clarita, Calif., were unbelievably rewarding. All of my training from dental school, practical work experience, and textbook knowledge came together for me right there in the hospitals. Diseases and anomalies we only read about or saw in pictures walked right into the emergency room. It was truly an honor to be part of this expanded educational process and has been a wonderful benefit for my patients.

My love for dentistry has made me passionate regarding the improvement and acces­si­bility of quality dentistry. It disturbs me that so many people go without proper dental care or receive substandard care whether or not they are insured. I am actively involved in the American Dental Association, the California Dental Association, and the San Fernando Valley Dental Society of Southern California. I have held leadership positions in all of these organizations to encourage participation and membership by our colleagues to perpetuate the highest standard of dentistry in the world. I am active at the state level to ensure annually that our state government does not degrade the quality of our health-care system here in California. It has been, and still is, exciting to be involved in organizations that make a difference in our profession and our patients. We all should remember that we are blessed with the abilities and talents to make a real difference in people’s lives by performing dentistry. We should not limit our dentistry only to those who can afford our treatments. Volunteerism is good for the soul!

As a female patient, a college and dental school graduate, and a dental professional, it became apparent to me early on that there was little consideration for the special needs surrounding the treatment of female patients. As an international speaker on the subjects of prepuberty to postmenopause and osteoporosis, I am constantly amazed by the lack of general - not to mention specific - knowledge my dental colleagues have regarding the treatment modalities of female patients during different stages of life. It is apparent that as “mouth doctors,” we should be so much more aware of the total patient vs. isolating our knowledge to the immediate oral cavity. As a female dentist, I have embarked on a mission to bring these issues to the forefront of our profession, and to set the stage of enlightenment for all of my colleagues with the goal that we may become better overall practitioners. An added benefit is that I have a fabulous time visiting my colleagues and meeting new ones all around the world!

Life has paved an interesting path for me these past 16 years. I’ve been blessed in so many ways. I have a wonderful husband, a great practice with a magnificent staff, amazing friends, some terrific brothers and sisters, and one of my best friends, my mom. I lost my mother this year on July 16. She was the total of my parental family, substituting for my estranged father and the early passing of both sets of grandparents. This tragic loss has allowed me, through a great deal of sorrow, to reassess what is most important in my life: the love of family and friends and the ability to provide a genuinely caring and adept service to my patients.

I am an ever-evolving project who hopes that I continue to land head up and feet down wherever life takes me. I wish this for all of you too. Have passion in your life for your loved ones and your profession, and live each day enjoying everything you do. We have a short life to share, so let’s do it with as much enthusiasm and kindness as we possibly can manage. It was an incredible honor to be asked to share “my personal journey” with all of Woman Dentist Journal’s readers. I hope I’ve brought some insights into your life with a peek at my little world here in sunny Southern California.

Virginia Hughson-Otte, DDS
Dr. Hughson-Otte is a general practitioner with specialties in cosmetic, forensic, trauma rehabilitation, and hospital dentistry. She actively serves her patients and colleagues well by her current membership in the American Dental Association (delegate), California Dental Association (delegate), American Association of Women Dentists (president, 1997 to 1998), and The San Fernando Valley Dental Society of Southern California (president, 2002). She has also lectured nationally and internationally for the past 10 years on women’s special health issues and considerations relative to dentistry. For more information, please visit her Web site at You may contact her by email at [email protected].