Dr. Carrie Brown practiced dentistry in Lexington for 38 years before retiring in 2012. But she hasn't stepped away from her passion altogether.
On Saturday, Brown will be installed as the 91st president of the National Dental Association, or NDA, which has 48 chapters in the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean, representing 6,000 minority dentists. She will be the first president to represent Kentucky.
The NDA was formed in 1913 and is the largest association of its kind in the world.
Each president is given a choice of sites for his or her inauguration, and Brown chose Lexington, although she hails from South Carolina and currently lives in Myrtle Beach. The bulk of her nonbiological family lives in Lexington, and most of her adult life was spent here, she said.
"The reason I chose Lexington over South Carolina is because I have built relationships and a patient base there," she said from her home in Myrtle Beach. "I never came back to South Carolina permanently.
"When I feel lonely, I get lonely for those relationships," Brown continued. "The practice was my family. It was like a mission."
As president, one of her priorities will be to recruit and retain more minority dental students, a purpose she has maintained throughout her career, she said.
"I was fortunate to have someone in my office to buy my practice," she said, adding that not all nonwhite dentists are that fortunate. "I am looking at trying to get more African-American students in dental school and out of dental school, and into private practice."
The number of black dentists is declining, she said, although the number of Hispanic dentists is increasing.
Another priority will be to "make sure we all understand the Affordable Care Act and its rollout year after year," Brown said. "I want to make sure we stay informed about those changes."
She kept her practice on the north side of Lexington to be closer to the patients she served. She was then better able to educate her patients about oral health and how important it is to overall health.
"You don't want to dig your grave with your teeth," she said.
In 2007, when a 12-year-old boy died in Maryland because of an abscessed tooth, Brown was so upset that she called me from Washington, D.C., where she was attending an NDA convention. "Tooth decay is five times more common than asthma," she said then, "And six times more common than hay fever."
Cleanings every six months and filling cavities could dramatically decrease dental disease, she said.
Her passion for dentistry was passed on to her daughter, Dr. Sakit Brown, a pediatric dentist in Atlanta. In 2002, they became the first mother-daughter graduates of the University of Kentucky School of Dentistry.
Born the fourth of nine children in Choppee, S.C., a small, predominantly black rural community near Myrtle Beach, Carrie Brown was the first to attend college. When she arrived at Tuskegee Institution, now Tuskegee University, Brown laughingly said, "The thing that fascinated me was that there were indoor toilets and indoor running water, and I had my own bed."
She moved to Lexington when her husband, Thomas Brown, landed a job at IBM as an engineer. Their second daughter, Shekira Brown, is a marketing manager for the Coca-Cola Co. in New York City.
On Saturday, the Kentucky Dental Society, an organization Carrie Brown has been associated with for more than 20 years, and the NDA are hosting the Presidential Scholarship Gala Dinner/Dance to not only honor Brown but to raise money to help more ethnic minorities enter and stay in the field of dentistry.