O'Connor found her true calling early in life
by Dana Becker
Posted on 6/10/2020
For Cara O'Connor, the Iowa Central Dental Hygiene Program was the perfect place to continue a passion developed at an early age.
O'Connor, who now lives in North Carolina with her family after an extended stop in Denver, first started working in the dental field in Fort Dodge with Dr. Matt Maggio in 2006.
"I have always had a love for teeth," O'Connor said. "That all started at a very young age. Every time I would go see Dr. Maggio, he would ask me what I wanted to do or go to college for. I would always say Dental School."
Maggio, who brought her in as a Dental Assisting chairside, helped get O'Connor in the right direction. She took all of her undergraduate school credits at Iowa Central and obtained her AA degree.
"Once I completed my AA degree I applied to 3-to-4 different Hygiene schools. Most schools when you are looking or researching will have about a 2-to-3 year waitlist," she said. "Iowa Central is the only one or was the only one in the state of Iowa that there is no waitlist. I applied the first year that it was open, was put on the alternate list and didn't make it. With that, Dr. Maggio said 'why don't you continue to assist for me while you wait to get into Hygiene School. It will give you experience and further knowledge.'
"I applied the following year and made it into the Iowa Central Community College Dental Hygiene Program. After I graduated from Iowa Central I packed my car up and headed to Denver, Colorado where I landed my forever dental home with Levin Family Dental - Now Espire Dental. I was with them for almost eight years before moving to North Carolina for my husband's job. I have worked some in North Carolina and it's a lot different than practicing in Iowa or Colorado. In Colorado hygienists can diagnose and have a stand-alone practice if they so choose. In both Iowa and Colorado hygienists can administer both Local Anesthetic and Nitrous Oxide. North Carolina is a lot different I am not allowed to diagnose or administer local anesthetic or nitrous oxide."
Currently, O'Connor works for a medical sales device company called Forward Science, which still allows her to step into dental offices and hospitals to maintain those contacts.
"Some of the most important steps that I gained from Iowa Central would be to network," she said. "The dental field is so small that typically when you go to a dental meeting people have seen each other, have met each other prior to or know each other. The saying always goes 'Don't burn a bridge, you never know when you will need to reach out.'"
Over the years, O'Connor has watched her field grow, offering her more than just the normal concepts.
"I love being able to help people," she said. "I love being able to almost be a detective. I have helped a lot of people not only in the dental world but also in the medical world. I have found both Oral Cancer and Skin Cancer. I have helped patients figure out that they have thyroid problems or borderline diabetes. I love that my doctors trust my education and passion for what I do and that I stay up on the latest information out there."
As for those looking at joining her in the profession or currently in the infant stages of the quest, O'Connor offered some advice.
"I would tell them to do as much shadowing as they possibly can, I would tell them to look at Periodontist offices, Pediatrics offices and General Practices to really get a feel for what it's like in this profession," she said. "It's very fast-paced, and you got to be quick on your toes.
"Know that the dental hygiene program is tough, but it has made me the best Hygienist I could be today. I carry a lot of knowledge still to this day that the instructors gave in both the classroom and clinician settings. Try and get a study buddy or what our class did was a check-in with everyone to see where their grades were at. We wanted to make sure that every single one of us graduated we wanted to be the first class to have everyone make it through. Lean on each other you are all in it together."