Dentistry: it's all in the family!

It's common for dental students to come from dentist families. Read on for a few of our generational students.

26 June 2020

Austin Fairbanks says, "I think there are many of us with dentists in the family because we see the whole profession."

Austin Fairbanks; Ashley Wacker; Marie-Catherine French; Cathy Kucey; Mark Spackman


fairbanks-austin.jpgAustin Fairbanks

Joining his father's and brother's practice

I've always wanted to be a dentist. (Or a helicopter pilot!) As a kid, I think it was the novelty of doing what your dad does. But as I got older, I saw the other perks of the job: you're well-compensated, you have time for family, it's a means to help other people... For me, it wasn't just about doing what my parents do. It's more real to us kids of dentists, and I could see myself doing the job and enjoying it.
I've seen what it looks like when a friend's kid falls and hits their face in street hockey, and my dad goes into the office to help out. That's what I'm hoping for.

It's different being the dentist's kid. I think you're less likely to have the stereotypical fear of going to the dentist. My dad's the only dentist I've ever seen, and it's not a weird experience going to the office.

Growing up, he was a big part of our lives. I remember he used to come to our classrooms and give presentations about gingivitis and flossing and give gift bags to the kids. When I was part of a scouts troupe, he did a vocation night for us. We all toured the office and took an impression of a penny. He loved showing off what dentistry is about.


wacker-ashley.jpgAshley Wacker

Her father owned a practice

I think my favourite thing about dental school was the camaraderie you felt because the classes were so small. You got close with everyone, and we were all friends. It was a really tight-knit group. The clinic environment was also great for learning, and the instructors were supportive.

My dad seems to think dental school was so much harder when he was a student. He said our instructors are so nice and want us to finish school. He says his instructors were much harder on them, trying to weed out people. It wasn't the same supportive environment.

My dad never tried to push dentistry on me. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I have no idea where that came from! In university, I considered dentistry, then I actually really enjoyed psychology, so I studied that. I liked the relationship with people aspect. When I got accepted into dentistry, I only had two courses left in my psych!

A lot of people have no idea what to expect coming into dentistry. But my dad gave me a bit of an understanding of what the career would be like. I got to see his relationship with patients and staff. He had such a connection with his patients and staff. It was like a family! Everywhere we went, people would come up to him that he knew. I have memories of going to the office and thinking it was a great environment. The experience of being at dad's office had a big impact on my decision to go into dentistry.

I also saw the stress of owning a business, and I waver back and about ownership: Some days I want to own a practice, with the freedom that provides, but then I think I want to be an associate without having the stress of owning a business. My dad sold his practice a few years ago and works as an associate now, so I've seen both sides. I'd think about it if the right opportunity came up.


french-mc.jpgMarie-Catherine French

Being mentored by her specialist father; joining a general practice

I never really understood what my dad did for work... When you're little, who even knows what a periodontist does?! But we've always been close, and now he's really excited to be able to talk about dentistry things with me. I used to listen to discussions at the dinner table about work, but it's exciting to finally understand and contribute to the discussions.

When I was really young, I wanted to be a horse dentist... I guess because my dad was a dentist and I loved horses. Later, I was more resistant to dentistry because I didn't want to go into it simply because he did. I loved science and anatomy and understanding how things worked. I thought maybe medicine or research, and I wanted to be sure before making a decision. It's easy to fall back on what your family does! In the end, I found I enjoyed the hand skills and artistry as well as the science of it.

I'm a bit worried because dentistry is changing, what with the advent of corporate dentistry, and a recession might push dentistry in that direction. But I hope patients will continue to seek out the family-style practice where they can be with the same dentist their whole lives.


kucey cathyCathy Kucey

Everyone's a dentist!

My dad's a prosthodontist, my mom's a general dentist who started as a hygienist, my mom's mom was a dentist, and my dad's dad was a dentist. My mom's siblings are dentists. My siblings mostly chose other professions, although my older sister's an RDA. I decided to break out of the mould and forge my own path! (Right!)

I took the scenic route and tried a lot of different things to get here. My parents let me figure it out, encouraging us to try new things and do what we wanted! I wasn't pressured at all. When I was really little, I wanted to be a hairdresser or an astronaut like everyone else. Later on, I liked the idea of teaching. High school drew me towards science and math, so I considered engineering. In university, I decided to do sciences. I didn't want to do research-y, academic stuff. By process of elimination, I ended up in health sciences. I took a year of medicine, but that experience just showed that I actually wanted to be in dentistry.

I remember my grandpa came over for someone's birthday. He saw that I didn't want anyone to touch my loose tooth. He told me, "It's time for that tooth to come out!" Then he chased me around the house. Finally, he caught me and just flicked it out. I was so surprised I didn't have time to be upset!

My grandma in Miami had an office in her house. I remember when you walked in if you went to the left, you saw her two chairs, her office, a closet converted into a dark room... To the right, you were in her family room and kitchen. It was always kind of funny to me going to visit and seeing that. She worked as a dentist until she was 80! Up until mom flew over and took the chairs out of her house. She was a hard-working lady and loved what she did. She was charitable and treated people whether or not they could afford it.


spackman-mark.jpgMark Spackman

Joining his younger brother's practice

In junior high, we got satellite TV; I fell in love with a show called The Operation. Watching entire graphic procedures like knee replacements... it was really cool! So for a few years, I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon. But when I got a little older, I started appreciating smiles and realized dentistry could be for me. I just wasn't motivated enough to go for it yet. Instead, I became an electrician.

My younger brother went into dentistry immediately, and I was so proud of him. I didn't know he was capable of it! When he started working, I shadowed him a little and thought, "Oh my gosh! This is exactly what I wanted to be doing!" So I went back to school. My brother and I drive each other to work hard. I was afraid to try, probably afraid to fail. He had the courage and discipline to go do it. I respected that, and it motivated me to go do it too.

My brother bought a second practice when it became available in the same building because he knew I was almost finished school. He wants me to work with him and buy in, each owning half. It's a pretty easy decision: my name's already on the door! He and I are really close; we're good friends. We've worked for our dad together since childhood, so we know each other's work ethic and intelligence. He respects me, and I respect him. I'm looking forward to working together.

My wife and I had our fourth child up in Edmonton during my school, and I would love it if one of my daughters went into dentistry! I got them this playdough kit in my second year of dentistry. It has a drill, a mirror, and a mould to make teeth that you put in a mouth. Unfortunately, my oldest daughter wants to be a vet! Maybe one day she'll change her mind. When I asked her, Ashley Wacker said her dad specifically said nothing about becoming a dentist, so... That will be really tough for me!