By Amanda Swanson

My name is Amanda Swanson and I am a fourth-year dental student at the University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry. Most days, you’ll find me treating patients and taking classes. But, outside of academics, I love reading fiction novels and running outdoors to explore the landscape.

When I’m not studying in dental school, I enjoy showing dogs.

I have also been training and showing dogs at American Kennel Club (AKC) dog shows since I was 9 years old. My Australian Shepherd, Smokin, and I currently compete in agility competitions and enjoy volunteering as a pet therapy team with children at local schools.

How Bright Smiles Make a Difference

My interest in ectodermal dysplasias – and later involvement with the National Foundation for Ectodermal Dysplasia (NFED) – began about two years ago when spending time with one of my faculty mentors, Dr. Tim Wright, in his clinical practice. I was inspired not only by the innovative dental care he provided, but also by the meaningful relationships he had with his patients through decades of experience treating individuals affected by ectodermal dysplasias and other syndromic conditions.

I will never forget my first day there, seeing the bright smile on his young patient’s face after viewing herself with teeth for the first time when she received her new set of dentures. I knew that I wanted to continue learning more so that I could make a welcome place for these patients in my own practice someday.

Treating those affected by ectodermal dysplasias from a dental perspective is challenging, but the smiles made in the end make it all worth it. It often takes a bit of creativity, a willingness to collaborate with those with expertise outside your own, and a recognition that every patient is unique and must be treated as such. I’ve been fortunate to gain a wealth of insight from Dr. Wright and others, from the genetic details behind these conditions to the many complexities involved with dental care. Most importantly, I learned the value of getting involved and dedicating your skills to make a difference.

Finding My Own Passion to Give Back

I had a great opportunity to meet and work with care providers and researchers from around the world when I volunteered at the NFED’s International Research Conference in the fall of 2021.

When the opportunity came last fall to help out with the NFED International Research Conference in Charlotte, NC, of course I said yes. There, I worked with a team of three other graduate students to moderate the sessions and take notes on conference proceedings to be used for future publications. As a science nerd, I found the intricacies of the research undoubtedly interesting, but it was the passionate enthusiasm and collaborative spirit of those in attendance that inspired me to stay involved. It was neat connecting with clinicians and researchers from around the world, united in their efforts toward such meaningful work.

This year was my first NFED Family Conference and I sure hope it won’t be my last! I came for the dental consultations, but attended many of the sessions myself and enjoyed helping out with miscellaneous tasks when we weren’t busy looking at teeth. I had a great time working with and learning from everyone in attendance. The Family Conference was an excellent reminder that, as dental providers, we are only one piece of the puzzle that those affected by ectodermal dysplasias and their families face. I think keeping that perspective in mind is so important.

To any young professionals contemplating volunteering with the NFED, my advice is to go for it. Show up, be curious, and get involved. As Helen Hayes once said, “The expert at anything was once a beginner.” I can’t imagine a more dedicated group of people than those I’ve been fortunate to meet through the NFED.

Following graduation, I am excited to pursue specialty training in pediatric dentistry. I look forward to meeting many of you at future events and continuing to grow my involvement with the NFED family in the coming years.

Amanda Swanson is our Volunteer Spotlight for August. The guest blogger is a dental student at the University of North Carolina Adams School of Dentistry.

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