Precision leads DDS graduate to 2022 Olympics

Tara Peterson competing in curling

Photo courtesy of Bob Weder

Tara Peterson, DDS ’18, does not like to be bored. 

The School of Dentistry alumna thrives on hard work and dedication. “I love being busy,” she explained. “The more I have going on, the more I get done. I’m always working on something.” 

That drive propelled her to pursue dental school while also competing professionally in curling—and it’s brought her to today, where she’s headed for the Winter Olympics while maintaining a dentistry career. 

Both sides of Peterson’s career were heavily influenced by family. “I like to say I was brainwashed into dentistry,” she joked. With a dentist for a dad and a dental hygienist for a mom, it felt natural that she would pursue oral health as a career. “Dentistry is a great field,” she reflected. “You don’t have to take your work home with you or work overnight; you can do other things as well.” 

DDS Silver Group Class of 2018 pictured in a restaurant
Peterson and members of the DDS Class of 2018 Silver Group

For Peterson, the main “other thing” is curling—also a family endeavor. She and her family started curling in 2000, embracing her mom’s Canadian roots. She and her sister continued the sport competitively, playing together while Peterson attended dental school. 

Though she had to take a step away from competing to focus on hands-on clinical work in her later years of school, she still supported her sister through the 2018 Olympics. And her dental career has made competing in the sport manageable. 

Peterson and classmates smile at the camera while practicing with nitrous oxide
Peterson and her classmates on Nitrous Oxide lesson day

“Now I get to do both, which is fantastic,” she said, reflecting on her practice’s encouragement of her sport. In fact, her co-workers even brag about her to patients. “My hygienists and assistants tell every patient that I’m going to the Olympics,” she said. 

Beyond the support of her staff, Peterson loves the variety of her job and the impact she can have on patients’ lives. “It’s great to see how happy and grateful my patients are,” she said. “I get so much happiness from people being happy.” 

And though they’re different in execution, Peterson’s two careers influence one another. “To be where I am with curling, and with dentistry, you have to work hard and see things through.” She also shared that the precision involved in both, while different, is a common theme in her work. “There’s a precision in curling, where you just have to feel it. Dentistry can be that way too: there’s an artistic side to it.”

These days, Peterson’s time is divided between days in the clinic and days completely focused on curling. Practice has gotten more intense since her team’s win at the Olympic trials. 

“It was amazing,” she reflected on the win that propelled her to the Olympic games. “There’s only one team that goes to the Olympics in curling, so it’s so cool to see all our hard work pay off.” 

She is excited to “experience the whole Team USA environment” and get to know other athletes on the road. “It’s going to be so incredible to have the US Olympic team on our shirt,” she said. “It’s just a really cool feeling.” 

And she knows she’ll have plenty of work to come back to--and some great new stories for her patients. She hopes her story can remind others that “dentistry isn’t everything.” 

“When you’re in dental school, it’s all-consuming,” she said. “But you are allowed to have a work-life balance. That’s what’s so great about dentistry. I get to follow other passions, while pursuing a great career.”