Building Confidence with a Smile: Faculty Member Anna Walton Travels to Honduras to Change Lives with Dentistry

Before joining the Carrington Boise campus as a faculty member, Anna Walton was a Dental Assistant for ten years. The last five years she worked in the dental practice of Dr. Blake Bybee in Boise, Idaho. Dr. Bybee has dedicated much of his time to a charitable organization called Smiles for America, which organizes volunteer missions to Latin America to serve poor communities with free dentistry. As part of her job, Anna would pack the many supplies for him. She hoped someday she could join him in the mission. Anna got that opportunity last month, traveling with Dr. Bybee and several others to Honduras to experience firsthand bringing dental health to people in need. And now, as a teacher in Carrington’s Dental Assisting program, she has returned to Boise and tells her students about her experience to inspire them as well to love the career they have chosen. This is her story.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Emmett, Idaho. I grew up on a farm. I am the youngest of six children: one brother and four sisters. I graduated from Emmett High School, got my associate degree from Idaho State University in American Sign language. I went to Pima Medical Institute for my dental assisting certificate and completed my Bachelor of Science as well. I hope to receive my master’s soon. I have lived in 4 states, including Idaho, Alaska, Michigan, Arizona and traveled to Canada, Mexico, Spain, and now I get to add Honduras. I play intramural volleyball and have recently been getting into pickleball. I love to be outside hiking, biking, kayaking, rafting, jet skiing, and during the winter I love downhill and cross-country skiing. My next goal is to get better at mountain biking.

How did you become interested in Dental Assisting?

My first time ever going to a dentist was when I was 16 years old. I had to get a root canal. Apparently, it was not traumatic at all, and I absolutely love teeth. I have been fortunate to find a career that I love helping people. My dental assistant teacher’s name was Miss Connie, and she is the reason for my love of assisting. Besides being a great teacher, she was my example of how a good teacher can mold a student to be the best at what they do. I have been a dental assistant for almost 10 years and have been able to assist in many different specialties and I still love oral surgery.

How did you get involved in doing humanitarian work?

For over five years I worked as a Dental Assistant in Boise to Dr. Bybee, who is very involved in humanitarian projects with Smiles for Latin America. They’ve been bringing dental and medical services for twenty years to help prepare young Latter-Day Saint men and women in Latin America to serve full-time LDS missions. In addition, they have participated in humanitarian projects and take the time to experience the countries they visit. I have also been involved locally with Love Heals, which helps underserved individuals in the community.

Tell us about your first experience doing volunteer work in a foreign country.

It was very hard work, very challenging, but I loved it. We served a total of 513 patients in four and a half days. Most of the patients have had little or no experience with a dentist and were between 16 and 26 years old. Many did not have access to something so simple as a toothbrush. My focus of the trip was to assist the doctor in giving them “restorative fillings” –we were restoring very damaged and neglected teeth back to their original health.

Sounds like a lot of work!

Yes! I worked from 7:30am and some nights until 8:30pm. The worst case I saw was a patient who needed 8 teeth extracted and six root canals. Of course, not all patients were like that!

So you were clearly servicing the poorest in the community.

There are dentists in the area; in fact, we give all our remaining supplies at the end of our trip to them. But we serve only the people who cannot afford a dentist; their teeth are broken and in pretty bad condition. We were able to clean and fix their teeth to literally change their whole outlook. At first the patients are very frightened. To help, you must be very patient and willing to talk with them and make them feel comfortable. So much of that is your attitude in approaching a patient. When we’re done and we show them their smile in a mirror, their confidence changes completely! I truly believe to help them smile will change their life. A smile can represent all of that. Afterwards, they sometimes bring back sweet gifts, so generous even though they have no money.

So now that you are teaching at Carrington, what is your goal there?

Teaching at Carrington is awesome! My goal is to build the next generation of quality dental assistants. We need individuals that care about changing people’s lives. I see patients in Idaho that are just as scared as the patients in Honduras. Taking the time with whomever you have in your operatory room can make a huge difference in someone’s life. I hope to instill the same confidence that I was taught by Miss Connie in my students.

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