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As an advocate for parents and small children, LaQuia Vinson uses her own experiences as a mother to show empathy and compassion to her patients. But she also finds time to clear her mind by watching hours of real estate-oriented reality TV.
"...if we can prevent losing teeth, we can prevent then having to fix things," LaQuia Vinson, DDS, MPH
Mother to small children. Foodie. Sports fan. Reality TV enthusiast. Advocate for parents and children.
LaQuia Vinson, DDS, MPH, a pediatric dental surgeon at Riley Children’s Health in Indianapolis, is all of those—and more.
And yet, Vinson says her career in dentistry came about through a bit of happenstance—even though her father is a dentist, so it’s in her blood.
“I worked in [my father’s] office all through high school, but I went to college believing I was going to be a pediatric orthopedic surgeon,” Vinson says. “That’s all I ever talked about. I was going to be the person to fix little children’s bones.”
And then came the lead up to taking her MCAT (medical college admission test), and the light bulb came on. The years working in her father’s office, even serving as his patient during his pediatric rotation while in dental school, had stayed with her. So over Christmas dinner during her junior year in college, she made the announcement.
“My father almost choked,” Vinson recalls. “It was pretty shocking to everyone, especially him, because his daughter was now going to follow in his footsteps.”
If junior year in college was the turning point toward a career in dentistry, it was junior year in dental school where Vinson turned her focus toward pediatrics. To that point she had worked with many geriatric patients and was becoming frustrated. Too often she found herself fixing things.
“At that moment, I thought, ‘Well, let me focus on prevention so if we can prevent losing teeth, we can prevent then having to fix things,’” Vinson says.
She turned her attention toward children. Focusing on prevention in children, Vinson reasoned, could spearhead healthy habits early on. The goal would be to get to the point where people are not losing teeth. Because teeth, she says, are just like any other bone in the body. And in her mind, it’s no different than going to a medical practitioner for an annual physical.
“[Teeth are] supposed to last a lifetime,” Vinson says. “If you take care of them. That’s not necessarily expensive. It’s when you find out everything that’s wrong that it can become expensive.”
Becoming a mom took Vinson’s advocacy and focus on prevention to another level. She says it helped her become more understanding of the frustration parents may have when it comes to brushing their children’s teeth. Vinson even shows a video to her graduate students from the time she tried brushing her 18-month-old daughter’s teeth.
“I’m literally holding her down,” she laughs at recalling the image. “But now my 3-year-old daughter is happy to brush her teeth without a fight.”
Vinson sees more than her share of 2-year olds who have decay because their parents don’t want to force them to brush.
“They always say pick and choose your battles,” she says. “Well, this is a battle we really need to choose, because the alternative is not fun.”
Vinson explains that if she had to choose a career other than pediatric dentistry, it would be a fairly easy choice: become a chef, or a fashion stylist.
The former comes from a time prior to having children, when she and her husband would frequent restaurants several times during a two-week period. And not necessarily the same restaurants over and over again. Vinson believes her love for a wide range of food comes from having lived in very different parts of the country.
“I went to college in New Orleans,” she says. “I did dental school in San Francisco, and my residency in Chicago. All of those have different flavor profiles and different cuisines that are sort of native to that area. I think that’s sort of where my love of food started.”
As for being a fashion stylist, Vinson recalls being “a 12-year-old kid” who was fascinated with watching “Style with Elsa Klensch”, a CNN program that ran from 1980 to 2001 and focused on fashion and design from around the world. There was something about those fashion runways that drew her in.
“I was always fascinated by runway shows,” she recalls.
But that wasn’t her only obsession. Vinson says her husband is fascinated how she can sit for hours and watch reality TV shows, in particular, people looking for houses.
“It’s nice to look at some of the architectural styles,” she explains. “The house we live in is 100 years old. So it’s nice to look at things from an architectural standpoint, trying to modernize or restore things but keep some of the original character. That’s a fun part of my life.”
Vinson’s affinity for sports comes from her mother’s love of basketball. And for a family growing up in suburban Chicago in the 1980s, that meant Michael Jordan and the Bulls. Vinson caught the bug.
“That’s how I got into it,” she says. “And in college I got more into college basketball. Very big on North Carolina, and Michigan and the Fab Five. I just grew up around a basketball-loving mother.”
She still follows the sport, completing numerous brackets for the recent NCAA playoffs. How did she do?
“Some came out good, and some not so good,” she laughs.
What’s always good, however, is seeing the smiles on the faces of children Vinson has helped. When children who used to scream and cry and be afraid of visiting the dentist turn those frowns into high fives at the end of an appointment, that’s an exhilarating experience.
“That’s the most rewarding part,” she says. “That I get to go to work every day and do something that I absolutely love. It’s a small thing, but it can have such a big impact.”
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