A pillar of the healthcare community: Dr. Linda Jackson on her career as a dentist and mentor

Published in News, Medical Professionals, Dental Care

When the School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota reached out to Dr. Linda Jackson, about becoming the program director for a new dental clinic at Rice Memorial Hospital, they mentioned the position required mentoring dental students. At the time, Dr. Jackson had served for 22 years as a dentist with Indian Health Services around the country, seven of which were on the White Earth reservation in Ogema, MN. During her tenure with HIS she taught students in the summertime. This opportunity would allow her to teach students year-round, an aspect of her job that she loved. She accepted the new position in Willmar and never looked back…

The history of Carris Health Dental Clinic

Years before Rice Regional Dental Clinic (now known as Carris Health Dental Clinic) was formed, Rice Memorial Hospital was seeing an influx of emergency room patients with dental problems. These patients often didn't have dental insurance or the means to pay for a private practice dental visit and many were having to travel to the Twin Cities to find care. Unable to properly care for these dental problems in an emergency room setting, leadership knew they needed to find a solution.

Then CEO of Rice Hospital, Lorry Massa, collaborated with the Dean of the School of Dentistry at the University of Minnesota about an idea to start an outreach program that would bring dental students to Willmar to help address dental needs in the community. After numerous grant-funding requests, space was allocated inside the hospital to build a new dental clinic, which opened in December 2007.

The first years of the Dental Clinic were focused on our region's biggest need - providing pediatric dental care. Rotations at the Clinic were unlike what many dental students had experienced with other rotations. Most students were used to pediatric clinics where they typically provided examinations and cleanings. "In Willmar, our students would experience children with needs like stainless steel crowns, or pulpotomies, a procedure used to save decaying or infected teeth," shared Jackson. With a dentist mentoring them through every step of the process, students were leaving Willmar with one-of-a-kind, first-hand experiences.

Setting goals and achieving milestones

One of Dr. Jackson's first goals after joining the dental clinic in July of 2010 was to help educate the public and prevent future dental issues. "We were seeing so many patients needing dentures because of lack of proper dental care," said Jackson. "I knew we needed to set a foundation for prevention." In addition, they were still caring for many patients who first presented to the emergency room or urgent care.

"I take great pride in our efforts to get these patients in quickly and care for their pain," said Jackson. "After they see us, we want to educate them on being proactive about their oral health. Oftentimes our clinic is the first time these patients have ever established dental care."

Another successful goal achieved during Dr. Jackson's time was her development of the First Tooth, First Dental Visit initiative. She is well aware that habits form early, so it's important parents receive proper oral health education to instill in their children at a young age. With the clinic directly connected to the hospital, it was an ideal setting for dental clinic staff to visit new mothers on the birthing floor and

educate about proper oral health. It's recommended that a child be seen by a dentist at the age of one, or their first tooth, whichever comes first.

"We aren't looking at the tooth at that age," explained Jackson, this early visit is an opportunity to educate parents on how to take care of their child's teeth because cavities are one of the most prevalent diseases in children. We applaud them for doing things the right way, or if they are doing things wrong, we try to redirect them to healthier habits."

The first dental visit initiative has been very successful, and pediatric appointments are often booked out eight to ten weeks at a time.

Goodbye root canals, hello retirement

After 33 total years in dentistry, 11 years with the Dental Clinic in Willmar, and mentoring well over 500 students, Dr. Linda Jackson has announced her retirement. When asked what she will miss the most in retirement, the answer was easy: the patients, the staff, and the students.

"I'm really going to miss seeing the students progress when they are here. Teaching them has always been one of my favorite parts of the job," smiled Jackson. She recalls during her time in dental school not being treated well. "Back then it was the culture of, you're never going to finish, you're never going to get your degree. And I just would never want any student to feel that way. These students are the future of our profession, and I know in their hands that our patients are going to be well taken care of."

After helping to treat and care for thousands of patients in our region, Dr. Linda Jackson will officially say goodbye and retire from the Carris Health Dental Clinic on August 31.

Amber Walker, DDS, will begin as the new Director in October.