In addition to having her own dental practice, Flint native Dr. Traci Dantzler is the president of the Genesee District Dental Society and a Michigan Dental Association spokesperson for the Flint water crisis. Though her career goal growing up was to be a cardiologist, Dr. Dantzler was inspired by her family to be a healer, no matter which practice she chose. Her uncle, also a dentist, inspired her with his love for his work. Dr. Dantzler’s hope and goal is to continue practicing dentistry, while also writing and educating the public about oral and overall health.
What part of Greater Flint are you from originally?
I am from the north side of Flint. I attended Flint Northern High School and graduated in 1980.
Where did you go to college and what degrees did you earn?
I attended the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor during my undergraduate years, where I completed my pre-dental studies. I went on to graduate from Northwestern University Dental School in Chicago in 1988, where I received my Doctor of Dental Surgery degree. In 2012, I graduated from the Counselor Training Program at Beecher Institute, where I received my Counselor Training Certificate. Beecher Institute is a Bible college which trains people who are called to ministry.
What aspects of your career are the most exciting?
The profession of dentistry is fascinating in ways that I did not expect before I began practicing. I always knew that I would enjoy working intimately with patients, healing them, eliminating their pain and restoring their smiles. However, the sense of satisfaction that comes from improving the lives of others is unequalled.
Later in my career, I became active in organized dentistry. I can truly say that I have the most amazing colleagues. Working together with these wonderful people on the local, state and national levels to advance our profession is rewarding on a whole different level. Seeing that impact, however large or small, truly makes it all worthwhile.
What career achievement are you most proud of?
Being the President of the Genesee District Dental Society (GDDS) has been a most fulfilling achievement. This opportunity has placed me in a greater position to gain insight into the needs of our local dental society, effect positive change, and connect with our community on a greater level.
The Flint water crisis has been an unprecedented tragedy that could impact oral health in well understood, as well as unforeseen ways. The bottled water that residents were forced to drink did not contain fluoride, therefore, there was great concern that they would begin to develop dental caries, particularly children. Also, we are aware that excess lead in the water supply could adversely impact oral health. I was asked by the Michigan Dental Association to be the local spokesperson for the Flint water crisis. I was also interviewed by the writer of an article for the Academy of General Dentistry, which appeared in the September 2016 issue of the AGD Impact Journal. It was entitled, “What You Can Learn from Flint and Other Water Crises.”
How did growing up in Flint shape who you are today?
When I was growing up in Flint in the 1960s and 70s, it had a small-town feel, but with endless possibilities. GM was prosperous, and our city was flourishing. We called ourselves “Flintstones,” and there was true camaraderie. At the time, Northern High School was more evenly divided, racially, and we all interacted like one big, happy family. That closeness is still felt to this day.
I received a good education in the Flint Public Schools, and I felt prepared to take on the world when I left home for college. During those next eight years, I competed with students from all over the world, and I believe that my upbringing in Flint prepared me for much of that. Also, some of the best athletes in the world came from Flint, and I believe that the culture of healthy competition helped prepare me for a life of success.
Who are the special people who influenced you?
My parents had the largest influence on developing the woman I have become. I was fortunate to grow up with an abundance of love and support. I was always encouraged to do my best, and told that I was capable of accomplishing anything I desired if I worked hard. I was never once told that I had limitations. My grandmother holds a special place in my heart because she was a very godly woman, not to mention my biggest cheerleader. She has been gone for many years, but I can still see the adoring, approving smile she had on her face when she would look at me. I could see her hopes and dreams for me in her eyes.
My uncle, Dr. Raymond Gist, and his wife, my Aunt Jill, had a huge impact on my life, as well. They were my “other parents” growing up. I learned a lot just by watching them, and how they lived their lives.
My uncle went on to become the first African American President of the Michigan Dental Association, as well as the first African American President of the American Dental Association. He has traveled the world, meeting various leaders from other countries, and sharing and receiving a wealth of information throughout his travels. He has been, by far, my greatest role model professionally.
Dr. Jay Werschky, GDDS Executive Director, influenced me to be on the Board of Directors and encouraged me to take a more active part in organized dentistry. He has guided and encouraged me throughout this part of my journey. It is my colleagues like Dr. Raymond Gist, Dr. Zelton Johnson, and Dr. Jay Werschky who paved the way for me, and for others.
What do you hope for the future of your profession?
First and foremost, we must be viewed by society as the authority on oral health. Greater education is needed to educate society on the importance of achieving and maintaining oral health, and the connection between oral health and overall health. I want everyone to understand that dentistry is a highly-specialized area of medicine. With this realization, I believe that society will be closer to achieving greater overall health.
The issue of access to care is extremely important to me. As with medical care, the underserved populations do not receive adequate dental care. Organized dentistry is working hard with legislators, dental schools and community-based organizations to improve access to care for this population; however, more work is needed. I believe that a part of my calling, if you will, is to help to “bridge gaps” between the profession of dentistry and society.
What do you hope for the future of Flint?
Although I have not lived in Flint for many years, it will always be my hometown. My mom and stepdad still live here, and I will always have a heart for Flint. I believe that one day, the city will prosper again. I hope that the world does not forget about Flint, but that it keeps advocating for our city until clean water flows through it once again.
More than likely, we will never see an automotive industry-driven town again; but there is great potential for restoration. The colleges here are thriving, which is always great for a community. We need visionaries who love this city, and who will collaborate with like-minded people in order to usher in a new era for Flint. I believe that technology and intellectual property will continue to thrive in today’s culture. There is no reason why Flint cannot be a part of that societal trend.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Believe it or not, my life away from work is relatively quiet and peaceful. I love going to movies and enjoying lunch or dinner with my close friends and family.
I also love reading and studying the Bible, and inspirational books by trusted men and women of God. It is by far the most fulfilling, inspirational thing that I do when I’m not working. Continually developing a closer relationship with God brings meaning to everything else that I do. That desire was placed in me at an early age, and is at the very core of who I am.
When my life settles down a little more, I look forward to finishing the book that I started writing years ago. I am afraid that if I resume writing, then I will not want to do anything else! It has become one of my greatest passions, in addition to drawing and painting.
I have come to realize that the only thing of lasting benefit is the love we have sown into the lives of others, and it is my hope that I will have contributed in some tangible way.