Tips From Current D.D.S. and Dental Hygiene Students

Student Profile: Thoughts From a Career Changer

Posted by Wendi Clanton on December 16, 2020

In recent years, more and more people have been applying to dental school later in life, sometimes after pursuing another career, starting a family or just waiting a few years. Generally, these individuals have come to this decision after much thought and research and are now committed to their goal of becoming a dentist.

Wendi Clanton, third-year dental student at Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University, recently connected with the ADEA GoDental team to share her experiences and advice as someone who recently made a career change to dentistry. Read on to hear how she made her way back to her first love of the dental professions later in her career.


ADEA GoDental (GD): When did you decide to pursue a career in dentistry?

Wendi Clanton (WC): From the moment I walked out of my first dental exam/cleaning at three years old, I knew I was going to be a dentist. I never questioned that decision until 11th grade when I took physics—I wasn’t going to pursue any career that required me to take that class again!

I eventually decided to be an educator and earned a degree in early childhood education. I enjoyed my time as a teacher and even miss it sometimes, but I found it more and more difficult to deal with the red tape, bureaucracy and decreasing ability to teach my students as I knew they needed to be taught. I then realized a career change was necessary.

A friend who worked for a pediatric dental office knew of my previous desire to be a dentist and she encouraged me to think about a career change to the dental professions. So, I went back to school to take the necessary classes to apply to dental school, shadowed several dentists who provided invaluable insight, studied like a madwoman for the Dental Admission Test (DAT) and then applied to a handful of dental schools. 

GD: Describe the impact of your career change?

WC: My family is my biggest source of strength (and sometimes stress) while in dental school. My husband is an elementary school physical education teacher, and we have three kids, ages 18, 13 and 9. My husband works full time in his profession, and continues to contribute in managing the household. He chauffeurs our kids to their sports and church activities, makes dinner, puts the kids to bed when I have a late night of studying and keeps the house picked up. Our 18-year-old daughter, who recently moved across the country to start her own educational journey, was extremely helpful when she was home. She picked up grocery orders, made dinner, watched her younger brothers and is still my cheerleader when I’m having a rough day. My other two kids are as helpful as can be expected, but they still require a fair bit of supervision and prodding. I absolutely could not do this without my family!

GD: Did you have any difficulty balancing school and life?

WC: As a non-traditional applicant turned dental student, I have to measure success differently than the typical dental student. I don’t have the grades that I would if I was able to focus only on me and my academic career. I don’t have hours and hours to spend studying—and I definitely don’t have the memory I did at 23! I have learned to be happy with myself (and my grades) by putting my very best effort into studying and letting that be enough. I can’t ignore my family to get better grades—I tried that during my freshman year and my mental health, and my family, suffered because of it. During my second year, I heard a fellow dental student advise a group of predents to “Find whatever aspect of dental school that means the most to you and focus on that.” It was a revelation and helped me see things a little differently. 

GD: What advice would you give future dental students who might be in a similar situation?

WC: I have three pieces of advice for nontraditional applicants. First, spend as much time as possible shadowing several dentists to make sure it’s exactly what you want to do. Ask them about ALL the parts of being a dentist—good, bad and the ugly. Make sure it’s exactly what you want to do and what’s right for your family before you ask them to make life-altering changes as well.

Second, find a school that fits your needs. Talk to other nontraditional students at each school you apply to and find out what they like and dislike about their schools. Make sure the school you go to is supportive of students with families. For example, what happens if you have a sick child and need to miss school—will you get an excused absence? What about maternity/paternity leave if you want to expand your family during dental school?

Third, make sure you have your support system in place before you start school. Have a discussion with your significant other about the changes in household and parenting duties that will take place once you’re spending 12+ hours a day in class, studying and doing lab work. Research child care in your area. Talk to your kids about what you will expect from them. Find a church that can give you the spiritual support you will need. Dental school, especially the first two years, is grueling. Being prepared can make the transition a little bit less painful.

Find more resources for Nontraditional Applicants and Career Changers.

About Wendi Clanton:

Wendi Clanton_headshot

Wendi Clanton

Class of 2022 secretary

Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University


Wendi Clanton received her Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education from Brigham Young University. Upon graduation, she taught elementary school for eight years. After “retiring” from her teaching career, Ms. Clanton focused on raising her young children and running an online embroidery business. In 2014, Ms. Clanton went back to school at the University of North Georgia to work on her prerequisites to apply to dental school. She is currently in her third year at the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University where she serves as her class secretary. After receiving her D.M.D., Ms. Clanton looks forward to working as a general dentist and being an advocate for better dental care for all people. She has been married to her husband Aaron, an elementary school physical education teacher, for 22 years, and they have three children, ages 18, 13 and 9.