Volunteer completes dental school to provide services at CDA Cares

Dentistry is not the first career for Debra Peterson, DMD. She enjoyed a long career in the nursery and landscaping industries before her volunteer stints in dentistry — first for CDA Presents and then CDA Cares — inspired her to put down the landscaping tools, at least part-time, and take up new some shiny new instruments.

“The more I got involved with CDA, I realized how much good the [CDA] Foundation does for people, and I decided to go back to school and become a dentist so that I could volunteer at CDA Cares,” said Peterson, whose foray into dentistry began seven years ago when she helped a friend out at CDA Presents The Art and Science of Dentistry, CDA’s biannual continuing education convention.

Peterson’s experience at the conventions spurred a further interest in dentistry and led her to train to become a dental assistant. Soon after, she began volunteering at CDA Cares, the volunteer dental program hosted by the CDA Foundation that provides dental services at no charge to underserved individuals. Next up for Peterson was dental school. After graduating from Western University of Health Sciences, College of Dental Medicine, she volunteered for the first time as a dentist last October at CDA Cares Stockton.

“It was a great experience. We had lots of people, all very grateful … it was a huge event,” she said, adding that she became “so hooked on it” that her husband joined her. They now volunteer together both days at the events to help patients. Dr. Peterson can usually be found in the restorative area, which she calls her passion. Doug Peterson volunteers as a patient escort. When dentists are ready for their next patient, he steps in to help ensure patient safety and efficient delivery of care.

For those who may be considering a career change later in life, Peterson has this to say: “I strongly recommend to anyone who wants to make a change in their life to realize it’s never too late. There’s always good you can do in the community and, if you have a dream, you should follow it.”

Still, as an advanced California certified nurserywoman, Peterson hasn’t discarded her gardening tools. “I spend most of my free time working in the yard,” she said. “Gardening is a lot like dentistry, producing amazing results in a relatively short period of time. With skill and effort, one can create incredible beauty with either activity. Both are not really work, more of a labor of love.”

Watch a video interview with Debra Peterson, DMD, on the CDA Cares Facebook page or on CDA’s YouTube channel.

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Stephen Abbott, DDS, an 11-time CDA Cares volunteer, came to the San Mateo event last April bearing gifts — hand-carved wooden hearts. The Chico-based dentist provided his volunteer dental services in the restoration department, then ended every procedure by presenting each of his patients with the gift of a hand-carved heart and a hand-written note.

Retired dentist Bob Chiurazzi, DDS, and his daughter Heather Chiurazzi, a first-year dental student at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Dentistry, volunteer side by side at CDA Cares and have missed volunteering just once since CDA Cares held its first event in Modesto in 2012. The pair looks forward to working together again in the oral surgery department at CDA Cares Bakersfield, Oct. 6–7.