On a mission: How one dentist is educating patients

December 7, 2015

For Nancy Shelton, DDS, attending her nephew’s graduation ceremony at Loma Linda University last spring was an emotional event. Not only because of the pride she felt for her nephew but also because she recognized that it had been 40 years since she had donned a cap and gown, taking part in Loma Linda’s dental school graduation ceremony herself.

For Nancy Shelton, DDS, attending her nephew’s graduation ceremony at Loma Linda University last spring was an emotional event. Not only because of the pride she felt for her nephew but also because she recognized that it had been 40 years since she had donned a cap and gown, taking part in Loma Linda’s dental school graduation ceremony herself.

“It was a strange feeling to think well, here I am 40 years later, right in the same place,” she said. In the same place maybe – but a changed person in many ways. Over the course of her career, Shelton has helped to improve the health of her patients at the practices where she has worked, provided volunteer dental work on mission trips abroad, opened her own practice, and learned to use advanced technology that was nonexistent at the start of her career.                       

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“Dentistry has been an amazing career because if you do good things for people you receive so much love and kindness in return,” Shelton said. One of the ways that Shelton does good for others is by focusing on comprehensive exams and educating her patients on the role that dental health plays in overall health. When she recommends treatment, she wants her patients to understand exactly what it entails and why it’s needed. That’s where intraoral cameras come in. “It’s so much easier to help a patient understand a recommended treatment when you can show them a clear image,” she explained.

In 2001, Shelton traveled to the Fijian island of Vanua Levu for her first dental volunteer experience at an open-air clinic. She discovered an immense need for oral surgery on the islands, which she didn’t have a lot of training in. Upon return to the states, Shelton went to work as the assistant to a dentist who did mostly oral surgery and when she returned to Fiji for three additional mission trips she was able to put that training to good use. Her two sons have joined her on the trips. “I think everyone should go on a mission trip because it changes your life,” Shelton said. “I was different at the end of each trip and I know that my sons were changed by their experiences, too,” she said.

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In 2013 Shelton discovered that she could continue her mission work in the tri-city area of Pasco, Washington, where she recognized the opportunity to share her knowledge with people who might not otherwise have access to care. She approached her friend Cyndi Hanna, a dental hygienist, about opening a dental practice together. When the women were connected with Patterson Representative Annette Halverson, she helped them secure a loan and connected them with the right people who helped put design plans together, choose equipment, and get the whole project on track.

The result is Downtown Dental on 4th, a three-operatory practice equipped with state-of-the-art equipment including Eaglesoft Practice Management and digital X-ray. With minimal technology experience, Shelton has embraced the new equipment. “I’m not great with computers, but I can handle our new technology. We had a trainer who helped us get all set up and our office runs so efficiently now,” she said. With a new office and updated equipment, Shelton can continue to do what she does best – serve others. “The only way you can really be happy is if you’re doing this for other people, because that’s where the payback comes,” she said. “There’s nothing that feeds the human spirit like giving because you get back way more than you give.”