Alumna becomes first practicing Dental Therapist in Maine
Claire Roesler only graduated last year, but she’s already breaking barriers and changing the way we see oral health care.
Roesler, who graduated in 2020 with a master’s degree in dental therapy, was born and raised in the midwest. A fifth generation Gopher, she told her faculty that, ideally, her first position out of school would be within an hour of the Twin Cities. “I was content thinking I’d be in Minnesota for the foreseeable future,” she said.
But then, she was offered a position in Maine, and everything changed. She went from planning for a position in the state where she’d trained to embarking on a journey across the country to become the first practicing dental therapist in the state.
Though Maine passed legislation in 2014 approving the use of dental therapists, licensing requirements weren’t solidified until 2020. When Roesler graduated and moved East, she became the face of her profession and its number-one advocate in Maine.
“It’s an exciting and humbling opportunity,” Roesler reflected. “It helps to know that so many people in Minnesota have my back: faculty at the U—Dr. Self, Mr. Christiansen, Ms. Seyffer—the Minnesota Dental Therapy Association, and more. They’ve all been so supportive, and I’m so grateful that I’m not alone out here.”
For Roesler, advocating for her profession is something she’d be doing either way—she’s passionate about the work she does and wants the world to know. “I grew up in a small town, so I saw first-hand how important access to care is,” she explained. “Dental Therapy is a unique and progressive field that really focuses on access.”
The transition from student to practitioner wasn’t without challenges, but Roesler credits her education with preparing her well for whatever surprises she might encounter. “Since graduating, I’m constantly thinking, ‘oh, Ms. Stull taught me that,’ or ‘Dr. Stefani talked about that.’ I think about things each of my faculty taught me, and I’m so thankful for that.”
She recalled a lesson from Michelle Arnett, RDH, BS, MS, on how health conditions and medical history is crucial—one she recalled felt overstated at the time. “She talked about how, when someone’s facing depression, you might have to encourage them to brush their teeth even once per week,” Roesler recalled. “That seemed so extreme at the time, but the pandemic has really shown me how mental health can impact oral health. You have to encourage people to set reachable goals and celebrate small victories. I’m so glad they taught us to think that way, because you never know what you’re going to encounter.”
Roesler is also grateful for her experience studying alongside dental and dental hygiene students, with whom she developed relationships and learned the importance of interprofessional collaboration.
But most of all, she’s grateful to be in a profession where she can focus on relationships. “You get to develop relationships with people and help educate them. That’s what makes me excited to go to work each day: thinking about who I’m going to meet today, and how I can make their experience at the dentist better.”
She knows going to the dentist isn’t on most people’s list of favorite things to do. But Roesler hopes that her skills, and her way of working with patients, can help them feel a little more comfortable.
Roesler has a big role to fill, as the only dental therapist in her state. But she’s clear on what the role means. “I take a lot of pride in dental therapy,” she said. “We train with dental and dental hygiene students, and we’re safe providers in the world of dentistry.”
She hopes her success can be an example for the students watching her today. And she hopes they know to be bold, be passionate, and ask questions.
“Find what drives you,” she said, of what she’d tell students looking toward graduation. “Take in every opportunity to learn something from everyone you meet, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone started somewhere, and everyone has something you can learn.”