My initial interest in dentistry started from a very young age and by unfortunate circumstance. You see, I was a rather rowdy child growing up in Dallas, TX and I definitely had my fair share of injury to my two front teeth. So much so that I spent my adolescent years being taken out of school for dental visits. And most of the time, they were dental visits that my parents could not afford. My general dentist was my super hero though! Although we could not always get the “recommended” treatment, he always came up with a solution to make me feel comfortable and cared for. He was the first professional to tell me that I could do anything! I was eight years old at the time.
From that point on, I knew that I wanted to become a dentist and do whatever I could to help those around me. While attending my dental school interview at Meharry Medical College, I read that the mission of the college was to ‘Worship God through service to mankind’. Naturally, I jumped for joy when I learned that I was accepted to this service oriented college. I immediately began to search out ways that I could be of service to mankind. My junior year, during a transition of new faculty entering the college, I heard of an opportunity to do mission dentistry in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. This opportunity would be like none other in that not only would we be offering our skills to this beautiful country and its citizens, but we would have the opportunity to collaborate and learn alongside Haitian dental students as well. What an amazing week we had together and a huge impact was made on my life and my own professional development.
Shortly after graduating from Meharry in 2013, I vowed to myself that I would seek out opportunities to do mission dentistry as often as I could. In March of 2015, I was able to take an adventurous vacation to Nairobi, Kenya. Although I had not planned my trip around doing any mission work, the group I went to Nairobi with had planned for us to spend a day in the Kibera Slums at a primary school where we could help fill up their empty library with books. We received massive donations from all over the USA and were able to overwhelm the children with reading material. But this was also an opportunity for myself and a dear friend and colleague on the trip to serve these young children through dentistry.
Although we were not equipped to do screenings or administer fluoride, we were able to teach the children basic hygiene skills and pass out toothbrushes and toothpaste. This simple act was something these children had never been exposed to and most of them never owned a toothbrush of their own. The smiles we received that day will forever be imprinted in my thoughts and it motivated me to continue to do all that I could in dentistry to serve the world around me.
You ever feel as if it was your destiny to do a certain thing or be in a certain career? Well again, becoming a dentist and offering this amazing skill to others just began to follow me throughout my life. This past February (2016), I was randomly browsing LinkdIn (which I rarely do) and discovered a post from an orthodontist who was recruiting any interested dentist who wanted to do mission work in the Dominican Republic the very next month. I wasn’t entirely sure I would be able to attend or even able to take off work, but I inquired about the trip and from there it was divinely prepared for me to go! It was an all expense paid experience for a week that I was easily able to take off from work for and I later discovered on the trip that I would be accompanying several of my colleagues from dental school that would be on the mission as well. It was an absolutely amazing time of hard work and retiring at the beach nearby each day we were there.
In between my world travels and excursions, I have been called upon by many in education and in churches to speak with young people about my journey and oral health. This too has helped shape my outlook on how my career has so many facets in every area of life. I now mentor young people who shadow me at work and want to someday become a dentist as well. The opportunities to share my passion for dentistry are endless.
Fast forward to today, I am in my third year of practicing dentistry and I literally wake up everyday and thank God that my childhood dreams have come true! Being a dentist not only challenges me for professional improvement, but it is an absolute joy to have such flexibility to help others in many ways. I can envision myself leading a small community center practice that not only treats the needs of it’s people, but educates and empowers the same people to improve their oral health and help create that opportunity to others, near and far. I do not know what the future holds for me within this amazing career. But what I do know is that I want to help others. I want to give back to the universe what it has given to me.
Christiana Harris, DMD was born and raised in Dallas, TX and her passion for dentistry began when she was only 8 years old. She received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Praire view A&M University and a Doctor of Dental Surgery from Meharry School of Dentistry in Nashville, TN. While in Nasheville she served as chaplain for her class and devotion leader in the Christian Dental Association. Upon graduation from Meharry, she received the Brassler USA Award of Excellence.