Good smile, good health

Andrea Eggleston knows what a great smile can show: everything from artistry to the signs of good health. And she’s determined to help more people get what they need to have a beautiful, healthy smile throughout life.

Dentistry is her chosen path, and it’s been on her mind for some time now.

“I had a great experience with my dentist as a child, surprisingly enough,” she says. “Because of how well he handled me when I was younger and needed dental care, I’ve had an interest in dentistry from a very young age.”

She began to see dentistry as a kind of art form, which appealed to her emerging sensibility as a young artist (a website highlights some of her early work). She also developed an interest in science, and she came to realize dentistry was a natural career choice.

The University of South Carolina, as it turns out, was a natural choice as well.

Dental school is, like medical school, a four-year program that follows a bachelor’s degree, and Eggleston specifically wanted an undergraduate major in biomedical engineering to serve as the foundation for her dental career.

Hailing from Omaha, Neb., Eggleston found that the state university system there didn’t offer the program she was looking for, so she knew she’d have to look elsewhere.

“I was touring schools in the Southeast, and USC was the last school I visited,” she says. “As soon as I stepped on campus, and was introduced to the biomedical engineering program, I knew I was where I fit in the best.”

The technical aspects of preparing for dental school are amply covered at Carolina, and the junior has found something else in her three years in Columbia: a passion to serve.

“I started volunteering at the Good Samaritan dental clinic my freshman year,” she says. “They had just opened, and I was their first undergraduate volunteer, and so I went there weekly to help translate and work with the dentist and hygienist, and I’m still doing that.

“That experience actually inspired me to work specifically in public health in dentistry. Just seeing the need that’s out there and how it’s really a very overlooked population. It’s so easy to just go into dentistry, or any medical service, and practice with those who are able to fully pay, because there are a lot of hoops to jump through to work with patients who aren’t able to fully afford care.”

Eggleston has set her sights on the U.S. Public Health Service, wanting to serve as a dentist in the Commissioned Corps. They have clinics nationwide dedicated to populations with limited access to health care.

“Especially with the Affordable Care Act now, there are going to be a lot of new clinics opening up,” she says. “Once I start working as a dentist for them, and work my way up, I’d like to help start more clinics, and also work for legislation affecting dental needs and care in the U.S.”

The U.S. Public Health Service can look forward to commissioning a great officer. The McNair Scholar – who has minors in chemistry, biology, Spanish, and health promotion, education and behavior – has built up a resume that has made her one of just 204 finalists nationwide in the Truman Scholar competition. The award would help her financially with the many years of education she has left: Beyond dental school, she also plans to get a certificate in dental public health as well as a master’s in public health.

Eggleston knows that good dental health contributes to good health overall, and she wants to see as many people as possible get the help a dentist can provide.

“I feel like dentists in general should be passionate about service. It really is a public service career, and there are so many disparities in oral health that are tied to systemic health,” Eggleston says. “Some of the big ones that people are talking about right now – for example, heart disease, diabetes and premature birth weight – they all have oral ties, so working with eliminating oral health disparities will help eliminate other systemic disparities.”

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Andrea Eggleston is just one of our Truman Scholar finalists. Read about Davontae Singleton and Andrew Kovtun and learn how you can help support outstanding students like these by visiting Carolina's Promise.

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