Drs. Flamer-Caldera and Hepburn Form an Unbeatable Mother-Daughter Team

  • by AGD Staff
  • Feb 14, 2022
2-14-22_MemberSpotlightFor many, family is a source of support and inspiration. Usually, that support comes from outside when it pertains to your professional career, but some are fortunate enough to work in the same profession as their family members — or even alongside them. Lorna G. Flamer-Caldera, DDS, FAGD, and her daughter, Thema Hepburn, RDH, BS, DDS, spoke with AGD Impact about what it’s like to practice dentistry as a mother-daughter pair. 

AGD Impact: What inspired you to become dentists, and why did you join AGD? What has your professional journey been like? 

Flamer-Caldera: I started out in college with a major in studio art. While completing that as well as a major in biology with the intention of forging a career as a medical illustrator, I minored in anthropology. Through that combination, I became interested in the evolution of teeth — teeth are among the most common human fossil elements. That eventually led to thoughts of a career more focused on the oral cavity, and dentistry seemed to bring it all together. 

I joined AGD because I felt extremely proud to be a general dentist, and I wanted to be part of an organization that completely supported my efforts to be the best at what I did. I wanted my chosen discipline to be as valued as specialty disciplines. My professional journey has been amazing. I had neither mentors nor family members to guide me in my early days as a new dentist, so I made a lot of mistakes. But I learned from those mistakes and continued to acquire knowledge and skills through continuing education. I also became involved in organized dentistry early in my career because, for me, being a dentist was about involvement beyond the walls of my office; I wanted to express my gratitude for the independence dentistry allowed me to have. I have been able to raise four children, attain AGD Fellowship, become president of the New York State AGD, become a university educator, lecture internationally, and continuously develop myself as an astute, enthusiastic clinician. 

Hepburn: I have had some shining examples of dentists, chief of whom has been my mother. She has made me very proud as past president of the New York State AGD; she invited me to accompany her in a range of duties, from dental conferences to House of Delegates meetings. My years as a dental hygienist prompted me to seriously consider higher study. After thoughtful deliberation, pursuing a degree in dentistry and becoming a member of AGD simply made sense as the natural progression of my growth in service to the patient population. 

How does being in the same profession as each other impact your practice of dentistry and your relationship? 

Hepburn: When one has such an accomplished parent, it isn’t uncommon to have a desire to distinguish oneself on one’s own terms. But knowing that I can rely on my mother’s expert advice regarding the science of dentistry, managing a dental practice and obtaining a healthy work/life balance is priceless. I am grateful to have unlimited access to my mother’s invaluable wisdom, which has facilitated my entry to the field. 

Flamer-Caldera: My daughter, of whom I am extremely proud, is smart, curious, observant and, most importantly, kind. I realized early on from her detailed questions about patients and procedures while still in dental school that she would be a good dentist. Better still, those discussions were a great reinforcer of our responsibility to examine the different approaches to treatment and our obligation as dentists to stay abreast of current technologies and care options. I want her to feel proud of my work and the dental practice I have built from scratch. We each have different areas of focus that complement each other. Our personal relationship has never been better. We like and respect each other and have fun together. I gave birth to Thema during my sophomore year of dental school and worried that, although I had a support system, our relationship would be affected because my time was split between home and school. Well, any minor, lingering worry from back then has been completely absolved through the closeness that has developed between us through dentistry. 

What are your goals for your careers as dentists? What do you hope to accomplish? 

Flamer-Caldera: My career goals today involve continuing as a clinician and a lifelong learner and mentoring my daughter and other new dentists. I hope to remain part of the momentum driving change regarding issues of gender and racial equity in the dental profession. 

Hepburn: Becoming a dentist is the height of all my professional efforts and achievements. I recognize the dentist’s role as one in which I can contribute the most in terms of social impact and meaningful long-term care to improve individual lives. My goal as a dental practitioner is to provide a linkage to care, emphasizing the three pillars of the profession: clinical skill, education and community service. 

What are some lessons you’ve learned during your careers that you’d like to share with other members? 

Hepburn: I have researched and am passionate about many of the challenges facing the provision of care to socioeconomically challenged communities, and I plan to explore new ways to break those barriers. Possessing an altruistic core, having appreciation for new research regarding dental conditions and technological developments advancing this field, and deriving satisfaction from educating patients are keys to being an awesome provider. I am excited about being part of the future of dentistry and am intent on improving the factors of oral healthcare in society. 

Flamer-Caldera: Dentistry is an amazing, wonderful profession. I have learned to maintain a feeling of wonder by continuing to learn the latest the profession has to offer. Continuing education is the antidote to boredom; I am never bored. I have also learned not to define my career goals and accomplishments by anyone else’s standards; bragging rights conversations are useless. You can’t go wrong by examining what will work best for your life and growth, then creating a path to reach that goal. I once thought that my desire to have a family would limit my ability to fully engage in the profession, but I can say that managing a work/life balance has made me more efficient. It has also allowed me to be involved in organized dentistry in a most gratifying way.