Rao named among ADA 10 under 10

Headshot of Aruna Rao on a School of Dentistry branded background

Aruna Rao, DDS ’12, was named a 2022 10 under 10 award winner by the American Dental Association.

The ADA 10 under 10 recognizes “dentistry’s rising stars: dentists who are making an impact in the profession less than ten years after graduating from dental school,” according to the ADA’s website. “The 2022 winners are driving dentistry forward and inspiring their colleagues through their work in science, research and education, practice excellence, philanthropy, leadership and advocacy.” The ten winners were selected after a review of more than 68 submissions.

Rao was born in India but raised in North Carolina. “I grew up in a household of research-scientist parents who certainly valued hard work and education,” she recalled. After pursuing a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering, she worked in industry before deciding to return to school for dentistry.

“Dentistry initially wasn’t a dream career,” she said of finding her way into the profession. “It came about organically in undergrad after heavily researching healthcare fields and observing in offices.” After working with children with special needs, “I wanted a career where I’d be able to have good clinical skills, help eliminate pain and infection and work with families from all backgrounds,” she said. “I also appreciate the longevity of patients who come into our clinic year after year. You rarely see that kind of continuity in other fields, and I think that’s what makes dentistry special.”

Rao’s journey to dental school was not easy: she wasn’t accepted on her first try. “In retrospect, it was definitely for the best,” she recalled. “I made sure to dive in and significantly strengthen my application for the second cycle.”

And it was worth it: “I will never forget that phone call from Dr. Naty Lopez, congratulating me on my acceptance,” she said. After attending the School of Dentistry, she completed a residency in pediatric dentistry at the University of Buffalo/Buffalo Children’s Hospital. She lives with her husband and son in Minneapolis and serves as a partner at her practice in Saint Cloud.

Rao loves quite a bit about being a dentist—she enjoys teaching at the School of Dentistry, volunteering with the American Dental Society, the Minnesota Dental Association and her local dental society. But most of all, she loves her patients. “I’ve absolutely been floored by the complete turnaround of kids over the years, who go from fearful and crying to just loving coming to their appointments,” she said. “It is very rewarding to help kids who really need care and cannot advocate for themselves. It takes a lot of communication and practice, and sometimes things don’t work out how you hope, but it is a very rewarding career.”

She was “humbled” to know she had been nominated as a rising star by her peers. “Just knowing the amount of mutual respect and admiration we have for our colleagues, and the impact someone can have in a short time, is rewarding in and of itself,” she said.

Rao says it’s “hard to grasp” the honor of receiving the award, but is grateful for the professional associations she has and the community she’s found in organized dentistry. “I’ve met incredibly smart and illustrious people along the way, who have become dear friends over time,” she said.

As she continues in her dental journey beyond her first ten years, Rao hopes to continue along the course and pursue more organized dentistry and teaching. “I have met the most wonderful friends and mentors along the way, so I prioritize those relationships,” she explained. “I have also been endlessly inspired by my fellow women dentists and those who have families and run businesses.”

But most of all, she knows she’ll continue focusing on taking care of herself.

“Dentistry takes an immense physical toll, and I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping yourself surrounded by not only good financial planners and accountancy, but good healthcare providers,” she said. “Your livelihood, physical and mental health depend on it.”

Read more about the 2022 10 under 10.