Career Path Interview: Brett Kessler, DDS
Brett Kessler, DDS
General Dentist & 14th District Representative
Landmark Dental Studio
On the surface, the dental profession does not seem like it would offer a variety of career paths but in reality, there’s much more than just what’s on the surface. Recently the team at the Articulator sat down and discussed the diversity the profession has to offer. From private practice and DSO to academics and public health, even entrepreneurship and innovation, there are countless options for dental school graduates or career dentists looking to make a change and find their passion within the industry. But don’t just take our word, we sat down with seven dentists from different journeys in the industry to learn about how they found their way within the profession. Despite their differences, at the heart of the interviews were two common denominators: the importance of not settling until you find a position that truly makes you happy and taking time away to reset whether through education, family, exercise or a hobby. Hear more from Dr. Amisha Singh, Dr. Geebellue Mensah, Dr. Nicole Furuta, Dr. Arthur Yagudayev, Dr. Amy Rosinsky, Dr. Jack Nguyen and Dr. Brett Kessler in the pages to come.
Can you share a bit about your background and how you got into dentistry?
What has dentistry meant for you? I studied biomedical engineering as an undergrad with the intent to go to medical school. However, at the precipice of me taking the MCAT, I stood at the mailbox with my application and decided not to do it. Then a friend who was already in dental school called me out of the blue and said, “You know, you should consider dentistry with your engineering background. You would do really well.”
Before attending dental school, the most I knew about dentistry was I liked my hygienist as a kid so I would eat Oreos to make the cleanings last longer. That and during undergrad we had a lecturer come into an engineering class to talk about dental implants. This was in the nineties, and I had never seen anything like it—how someone could go from no teeth to a full mouth of teeth with implants or dentures.
Dentistry has meant everything. I even met my wife in dental school, and we were married in our fourth year.
You have been involved at all levels of organized dentistry—starting at the local level up to the ADA. What first influenced you to get involved and how has that shaped your career?
I decided to try and get sober in 1997. At that time, I didn’t know where to turn so I called the ADA and they connected me with resources to get assistance. When I finally got sober in 1998, I was a member but not active.
I started to take on a more involved role in organized dentistry when I moved to Colorado. At that time, the Dental Board put my license on probation for my history of substance abuse and it made me really angry. I got involved because I decided it was the only way to effect change. Fast forward a few years, I was practicing dentistry downtown and doing pro-bono work with Sobriety House. Word got around and other rehab centers started sending patients my way as well. It became overwhelming so I reached out to MDDS to see if anyone else was doing this kind of work. We did an article on the topic in the Articulator, which helped get some other dentists involved. All of this evolved into me joining the MDDS Community Access to Care Committee. Then the former Smile Again Program was created, which treated victims of domestic violence. I haven’t gotten out since!
I can’t imagine my career being anywhere near as fulfilling as it has been without my involvement in organized dentistry. Had I not gotten involved and worked my way to the highest level of leadership in organized dentistry I might not have a platform like I do to potentially shape the profession in the best possible way, not only for the dentists but the communities we serve. It is an honor and a privilege.
What do you know now about organized dentistry that you wish you knew when you were just starting?
It is not just going to the legislature telling them which rules we need or don’t need. It’s meeting with insurance companies and advocating for better reimbursement rates and benefit programs. It’s educating legislators on best practices and advocating for or heading-off different policies that would be bad for the profession and patients. I think it is the ADA’s biggest power and often the most underappreciated one.
Many dentists, volunteers, students and professional team members look to you as a leader in the profession. How did you hone (and continue to) your leadership skills?
A long time ago now, I decided I wanted to live every day as my best day, and well, live my best life. I got more into leadership when I opened my practice. I dove into leadership books, and I hired a personal coach to help guide me and keep me on task with my goals. Being involved in organized dentistry leadership also helped me grow further and realize what my core values are. I strive to be a positive catalyst for change in the world and whatever role I’m sitting in.
What advice do you have for a dentist who is just starting on their career path?
An exercise my coach gave me once was to write a letter for five years in the future. The letter is to your best friend telling them everything that has happened in the last five years. In the exercise, you can detail the kind of practice you want to work in, what kind of patients you are seeing and the type of dentistry you are doing. You also list personal things like trips you took, races you won, volunteer outreach or community involvement, etc. You put all these professional and personal goals out there as if they have already happened. Then you share with a person(s) you trust so they can help keep you accountable. You pick out goals from the letter to focus on and accomplish over those five years.
A life well lived is lived intentionally—not by happenstance. Each decision I make goes back to that vision, my ideal and goals—is this going to get me closer to that? Sometimes you veer off and that is ok, but you have direction.