Behind the smile: One dental assistant’s journey to a passion-driven career

She describes her first interaction with My Community Dental Centers as if it were just yesterday. 

Arriving in sweatpants for what she hoped would be an incognito scout of the location for her interview the next day at an MCDC location in Ypsilanti, Autumn Dunham didn’t know she’d find herself face-to-face with the office manager. 

“Are you here for an appointment?” the office manager asked.

“No, I am here because I have an interview tomorrow,” Autumn replied. 

Without hesitation, the office manager explained she had time and would be happy to walk her through the center. A little panicked and not prepared, Autumn agreed. It was during that brief encounter she met MCDC staff members, including Dr. Sara Bond.

“I guess they liked me,” Autumn smiled. “It very quickly made me realize how accepting and welcoming MCDC was.”

Before applying to MCDC, Autumn’s first experience working in a dental office was when she was a teenager. It was an intentional decision after she had given up her interest in pursuing robotics classes in high school to avoid being in the same class as her brother. She soon started taking dental assistant classes. 

When graduation came around, she didn’t know which career was right for her, so she spent time exploring other options. 

“You graduate from high school and have no idea what you want to do,” Autumn said. 

After a short time in college, Autumn left school to refocus and figure out her path. 

“I thought, in the meantime, I will just get back into dentistry, which led me to apply to MCDC,” she said.  

Five years later, Autumn found herself in a career that feels like the right fit. Since joining the MCDC team, she has experienced tremendous growth and left an impression on all patients and team members who have the opportunity to be in her presence.  

“After working here, I would never work for private practice,” Autumn said. “I have interviewed for other places, but I just keep coming back to MCDC.”

Autumn is one of a few dental assistants who have taken advantage of the continued education opportunities offered by MCDC. The organization offers an Education Assistance Program, providing dental assistants the opportunity to improve their professional skills. Dental assistants with two years (or 3,500 hours) of dental assisting experience or who are pursuing their Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) certification can apply for MCDC’s Education Assistance Program. New in 2022, through the support of MCDC’s Voice of the Culture Committee, the organization introduced continued education credits for dental assistants. 

“As a family of dental professionals, we strive to set the standard in high-quality oral health care for our patients and the communities we serve,” said MCDC’s CEO Dr. Deborah Brown. “We know that for many, a career in dental may seem out of reach. As an equitable employer, we are looking to diversify the industry and provide opportunities to all — so that no matter where someone is in their career, as a member of the MCDC team, they receive a supportive environment and the educational assistance they need.” 

Autumn described how Jen Amburgey, her Office Manager, built time into her day so she could study for her CDA exam. When it came to mentorship, she shared how she truly admired Dr. Bond for her knowledge and connections to help Autumn continue developing her skills. 

“At times Dr. Bond was more excited than me,” Autumn said, “My team carried me through my Registered Dental Assistant program and they were so supportive.”

She shared that while her team was supportive, the financial support was a game-changer too. 

“I truly appreciated the financial support from MCDC for my RDA courses and CDA exam,” Autumn said. It took a huge weight off my shoulders knowing I could concentrate on studying and not worry about how I would afford my education.” 

She says her persistence has resulted in sharing her passion for continued education with her fellow team members. 

“Growing in my education has allowed me the opportunity to have more fun being on my own, educating patients on their oral health, and collaborating with team members on procedures,” Autumn added.  

She also adds how MCDC has opened doors to future career pathways. 

“I like teeth, and there is no other occupation I would rather be in,” Autumn said. “I am a driven person and never easily satisfied. Looking at the long term, I want to be in general dentistry. Some people work for money, and for me, working in dentistry is another home.”  

In addition to her role as a registered dental assistant, Autumn is a Wellness Warrior and serves as a member of the MCDC Culture Committee. She is most proud of the work she has done to be a part of building a thriving culture and being a voice for her team members — so she can continue inspiring more passionate people to join the dental profession.  

When we asked Dr. Sara Bond about working with Autumn, she shared, “Autumn is one of those people you meet, and you just know she is special. She is someone who could be anything she wants- with her drive, enthusiasm, and smarts, the sky is the limit for this one! She makes me a better dentist- I can do my best when I know she has my back! We are so lucky that she chose dentistry, being an RDA, and MCDC. She’s a keeper!