Classical Musician Transitions to Career in Dentistry

April 10, 2018
Ed Rabinowitz

Monica Garnache, DMD is a well-respected dentist and mentor to other dentists, but her career in oral health almost never happened due to her love for classical music. It was a challenging transition that was years in the making, but today she looks back and acknowledges she couldn’t have asked for anything better.

It felt great to be able to help so many people. I just fell in love with the Aspen model.

Monica Garnache did not take the traditional route on her way to a career in dentistry. Quite the opposite.

Garnache, DMD, who today is the owner of Aspen Dental-branded practices in Eugene and Springfield, Oregon, attended and graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and had a 10-year orchestral career.

“I started studying music at a pretty young age, around 6-years old,” Garnache recalls.

The early studying blossomed into a potential music career while she was in high school. Garnache, who is a classically trained French horn player, won several scholarships, which helped pay for college, so music naturally seemed like the best path forward. She even spent a year living in South Africa to get her principal experience — the principal musician in an orchestra is the lead player for each respective section of instruments.

“You can’t get that experience in this country right off the bat,” Garnache explains. “You have to go abroad, get training as a principal, and then you can come back. It’s something a lot of classical musicians will do.”

When she returned, Garnache spent time “driving around a lot” playing with virtually every orchestra in the Bay Area other than the San Francisco Symphony. She also taught music privately, but eventually tired of the lifestyle.

“It just wasn’t the long-term life that I wanted for myself.”

THE ORIGINAL DREAM

When Garnache was around 5-years old she had a tooth knocked from the front of her mouth, and as a result, spent a good amount of time visiting the dentist. While most might look back on the experience as a negative, Garnache enjoyed the visits.

“It probably had to do with the fact that I also got little treats and prizes when I went to the dentist,” she recalls, laughing. “But I always felt good when I was at the dental office, and I had a good rapport with him.”

She even thought about changing her major to pre-med at one point in college, but the lure of a career in music was still too strong. Later, however, when Garnache tired of life on the road and returned to her original dream of a career in dentistry, a dentist friend of the family encouraged her to apply to Tufts University in Massachusetts. That set in motion a transition that lasted several years.

“I had to give up my (music) jobs to go back and do my pre-reqs, because I had to do four years of pre-reqs before I even got into dental school,” Garnache says. “And when you turn down a job once, they’re not going to call you again. So it was like, okay, I guess I’m making my decision.”

Along the way, Garnache admits there were moments when she wanted to second-guess herself a bit, but “I’m pretty determined when I make up my mind.”

“My degree is in French horn. I’m a classically trained French horn player.”

THE ASPEN CONNECTION

Garnache opened her initial practice in New Hampshire, and says she had the ability to do so thanks at least in part to the backing of Aspen Dental. Having an organization there to back her up when she needed assistance boosted her confidence.

“I really liked the way they operated, and their support,” she says. “They were just way more supportive than I would have imagined. From the very beginning, it always seemed they were looking out for us in a way I had never thought was possible.”

Garnache eventually relocated to San Francisco for family reasons and opened a practice locally, but soon realized the market was oversaturated. She eventually moved to Oregon and rejoined Aspen, becoming a practice owner in 2014.

“It was their model and their mission of access to care,” Garnache explains about her affinity for Aspen Dental. “It felt great to be able to help so many people. I just fell in love with the Aspen model.”

Along the way, Garnache’s daughter, Michelle, fell in love with the field of dentistry. Perhaps not surprising, given that her mother was a dentist and her father, Garnache’s husband, a hygienist. But Garnache says while she encouraged, she didn’t egg her daughter on to follow in her footsteps.

“She saw us both change our careers to go into [the field of dentistry],” she explains. “I think she saw the whole process and liked what she saw.”

Michelle practiced with her mother in Oregon for about eight months, then moved back east where she now practices with Arrowhead Dental Associates in Charlestown, Rhode Island.

“I’m very proud of her,” Garnache says. “It’s not an easy path. But she really set her sights on it, and decided that was what she wanted to go for.”

STILL PLAYING

Once a musician, always a musician — at least at heart, and Garnache is no exception. She still plays from time to time, picking up the trumpet — “It’s hard to not play the French horn for a year and then pull it out and play well. It’s a pretty demanding instrument” — and jumping in to play or help record with her husband’s band, but says it’s mostly for fun and relaxation.

“I love supporting the symphony here,” she says. “You don’t always have to be performing [music] to love it, to gain therapeutic benefit. It’s just always with me.”

Professionally, Garnache loves the work she does, saying it has provided her with some of the most rewarding moments of her career. And while she’d love to have her daughter return and practice with her, absent that, Garnache still feels like she’s “at the top of the rainbow.”

“I’m really pleased with what I have, and feel so fortunate,” she says. “I don’t think, career-wise, I could ask for anything better.”

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