10 Dentists to Watch

  • by Kelly Rehan
  • Jan 2, 2024
They’ve practiced less than a decade but have already made a lasting impact.

This year’s group of accomplished young dentists have worn many hats. Neuroscience researcher, college baseball player, LGBTQ advocate and United States Army Reserve Captain, to name a few.

These dentists have different specialties and goals, but they all share an unwavering drive to remain a lifelong student of dentistry and provide their patients exceptional care. 

AGD Impact invites you to meet 10 young dentists who have practiced less than a decade and are furthering dentistry’s reputation in healthcare by putting their own unique stamps on the field.  

Morgan Hill Dentistry, Morgan Hill, California

When Ravneet Dhillon, DDS was 8 years old, he went with his grandma to her dentist appointment. She had several oral health problems, and he was amazed how her dentist improved her quality of life. 

“Since then, I decided to become a dentist to help people,” Dhillon said. 

Dhillon’s dental education began in India, but eventually moved to New York University due to the advanced technology and opportunities available in the United States. Dhillon said that although he uses the latest technology in his office, it’s simple communication that makes the biggest impact on his patients. 

“No one looks forward to going to a dentist, and that's precisely why we aim to make our patients feel at home in our office,” Dhillon said. 

A patient-centered approach that creates a welcoming and comfortable environment is essential for building trust, reducing anxiety and delivering the best healthcare, Dhillon said.

“My appointments are spaced out to ensure I can answer any of my patients' questions,” he said. “Getting to know the patient and even cracking jokes helps them feel more at ease.”

Outside the clinic, Dhillon dedicates time to charitable initiatives and dental outreach programs. Dhillon credits his background in the Army Reserve to giving him a strong sense of duty and commitment to service. For example, Dhillon and his team go to area schools to educate children of all ages about oral health. 

“It can be gratifying to see the positive impact on children's lives as they learn about the importance of oral health,” Dhillon said.  

Although he’s young in his career, Dhillon has stepped into the role of mentor for brand new dentists. His advice to new dentists is to embrace the idea of lifelong learning.

“Don't limit yourself to what you know today,” Dhillon said. “Remember that as you continue to learn and improve, you'll not only enhance your career but also contribute to the overall advancement of dental healthcare."

Through a patient-focused clinical approach and a dedication to continuing education, Dhillon has improved the overall well-being of his patients in much the same way his grandma’s dentist did for her.  

“Our work is not just a profession; it's a calling,” Dhillon said. “And we have the power to make a difference in the lives of those we care for.”

Clackamas Smiles Family Dental, Clackamas, Oregon

Jonathan Faris, DMD became a passionate advocate for dentistry and lifelong learning as a student representative on the Oregon Academy of General Dentistry's (OAGD) Board of Directors during his third year of dental school.

"I attended board meetings for the next two years, offering support and insight from a student perspective," Faris said.

Upon graduating from dental school in 2022, Faris remained a strong proponent for continuing education and organized dentistry.  

"As dentists, our education does not stop when we graduate from dental school,” Faris said. “AGD’s focus on quality continuing education is one aspect that initially drew me in. Without the courses that I’ve taken at OAGD and the community I’ve been a part of, I would not be the dentist I am today.”

Faris was elected as OAGD's President-Elect in October 2023. He aspires to be a mentor and leader for the organization, aiming to enhance membership retention efforts and offer high-quality continuing education courses in Oregon.

“One way I feel like AGD has benefitted me is in the passionate group of mentors who are in AGD,” Faris said. “I want to become the type of mentor and leader that these people have been to me.”

Faris isn’t solely focused on advancing the dentistry field on a large scale — he also emphasizes the small changes he can make in his own practice to improve his patients’ experience. He recognizes the crucial role communication plays in ensuring patients understand the "why" behind recommended treatments.

“I am always striving to be a better communicator with patients,” Faris said. “In school, we didn’t have any lectures or courses on this subject. However, poor communication can be the difference between a patient getting the care they need and not scheduling treatment. Our goal as dentists is to keep our patients healthy, so clear communication is paramount.”

Spira Dental Sleep Therapy, Conroe, Texas

Aaron Glick, DDS, FAGD was a neuroscience researcher at Brandeis University and Harvard University before realizing he wanted a career that offered a front row seat on the real-world applications of research. 

"I decided to shift my attention toward dentistry as a profession because I wanted to directly see positive change through patient interactions," Glick said.

Glick’s primary area of focus is dental sleep medicine, where he holds the titles of Qualified Dentist from the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and Diplomate of the American Board of Dental Sleep Medicine. Glick sees this field as a unique opportunity to impact overall health by collaborating with medical providers.

“Sleep apnea has an influence on many medical comorbidities, and knowing that dentists have the ability to treat sleep apnea and reverse these comorbidities is extremely rewarding,” Glick said.

Oral health has direct impacts on overall health, but that may not be as emphasized in the education of other healthcare providers or the general public. Glick is doing his part to change that.

“I recently had a rewarding experience after lecturing a class of second-year medical students about the oral-systemic link,” Glick said. “I realized that I had given them their first lecture on oral health throughout their medical school experience. There is a great need to continue to expand the understanding of oral health in other health professions.”

Glick enjoys clinical care, which allows him to understand the key needs of clinicians. As a way to impact patients on a larger scale, Glick has prioritized his research endeavors. A big focus of his work is the intersection of technology, sleep apnea and dentistry. He’s explored the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) since his dental school days, when he created software using AI to automatically diagnose caries in radiographs.

“We are continuing to research the effects of human-machine interaction and how to improve the implementation of AI in the dental office,” Glick said. “A fundamental breakthrough in research or novel technology can vastly change the way dentistry is performed and the way patients receive care.”

As he looks to 2024 and beyond, Glick envisions a continued commitment to translational research and the intersection of sleep medicine, AI and technology.

"I believe that these new technologies have the potential to positively impact clinical outcomes, increase patient satisfaction and meaningfully improve each dentist's life," he said.

Center for Dental Excellence, Nashua, New Hampshire

When Andy Janiga, DMD, FAGD was a child, he loved going to the dentist. In high school, he worked for his childhood dentist and saw firsthand the art, science — and athleticism — of dentistry. 

“I liked the fact that this was not a desk job but rather an active career,” Janiga said. “Growing up playing sports, I was drawn to the fact that dentistry could be just as active as playing sports.” 

A former college baseball player, Janiga applies many of the teamwork principles he learned in athletics to his dental practice. 

“Teammates and coaches who were positive, reassuring and motivating led to winning teams,” Janiga said. “A dental office is very similar. When a dentist brings positive vibes to the office, the staff feeds off of it and is inspired to do the best they can not just for themselves but for the entire team.  

In his young career, Janiga has been selected as a “40 Under 40” dentist in 2017, presented at the AGD Annual Meeting in 2022 and became a partner at his practice, The Center for Dental Excellence in Nashua, New Hampshire. Janiga joined his practice during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic but has eagerly introduced himself and integrated his practice into the community.

“Each March during Children’s Dental Health month, I visit the local schools and discuss oral health with the children in our community,” Janiga said. “We have also taken a greater role in the community by participating in events such as our local farmer’s market and trunk or treat events to spread the word about what we can do to help improve the oral health of our community.”  

One of Janiga’s goals is to reduce the fear and anxiety that many patients feel when seeing a dentist. Recalling how he loved seeing the dentist as a kid, Janiga aims to create an environment where patients look forward to coming to see the dentist.  

“Small things, such as checking in with a patient mid-procedure and including them in the discussions about what may be occurring with their oral health and how they can address it has helped our patients become healthier and have an overall positive, enjoyable experience in our practice,” Janiga said.

Yale New Haven Hospital, New Haven, Connecticut

From his pre-dental shadowing experiences to his current role, Adam Kennedy, DMD, FAGD credits the pivotal role his mentors have played in shaping him into the dentist he is today.  

“Through their guidance, I came to understand that excellence in dentistry extends far beyond mastering technical skills or achieving clinical milestones,” Kennedy said. “It’s about establishing trust and rapport, creating a safe space for patients to express their needs and concerns, and tailoring treatment plans that align with their unique goals.”

As he progressed from resident to program director, and through his roles as an associate and practice owner, the impact of this mentorship has remained a guiding force in Kennedy’s practice. In that spirit, Kennedy is committed to paying it forward by training and mentoring the next generation of dental professionals. 

“I hope to continue the legacy of compassionate, person-centered care that has been at the heart of my journey in dentistry,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy, a first-generation college graduate, noted achieving his AGD Fellowship (FAGD) and earning his current role as program director for the General Practice Residency at Yale New Haven Hospital (YNHH) as two of his proudest professional achievements. 

“This role is particularly meaningful to me as it allows me to drive initiatives focused on public health, ensuring that our approach to dental care extends beyond individual treatment and contributes to the broader well-being of our community,” Kennedy said.

At YNHH, Kennedy has helped advance vital public health initiatives, particularly in the realm of enhancing accessibility and inclusivity within the dental community. For example, he and his team secured grant funding to launch a community dental van, prioritizing essential care for veterans. 

Looking ahead, Kennedy’s goals include achieving AGD Mastership (MAGD) and strengthening YNHH’s General Practice Residency program’s educational offerings to better equip the next generation of dental professionals to provide exceptional care.

“I’m excited about pushing dentistry forward and improving patient care,” Kennedy said. “With continuous learning, mentorship and targeted outreach, I’m confident we can make a significant and lasting impact on the oral health and well-being of our community.”

Big Gay Smiles, Washington, DC

Robert Scott McKernan, DDS began his journey in dentistry as a Mormon missionary in the Dominican Republic. Translating for a group of dentists opened his eyes to the impact of dental professionals.  

"Witnessing the immediate impact those dedicated professionals had on the lives of the locals made me want to become a dentist," McKernan said.

One of McKernan’s proudest professional achievements has been establishing his practice, Big Gay Smiles, alongside his husband, Tyler. This fee-for-service dental clinic aims to provide a welcoming patient environment, particularly for LGBTQ+ individuals and their allies. 

“We’ve had people travel all the way from Florida and Vermont to see us in Washington, DC for the safe space we provide,” McKernan said. “They often come with previous traumatic dental experiences due to their gender transitions or sexuality, and it’s an honor to be able to change the narrative that dentistry is often associated with.”

McKernan donates 10% of the practice's gross revenue to non-profit organizations focused on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS, such as AIDS United.

McKernan also provides care at the Whitman Walker Health, a public health clinic offering high-quality healthcare to the LGBTQ+ community and individuals affected by HIV/AIDS. 

“We focus on addressing the oral health needs of our patients and improve their systemic health with compassion, understanding and a commitment to reducing health disparities in these communities,” he said. 

McKernan's dedication to service extends beyond his practice. He still participates in dental mission trips to the Dominican Republic, giving back to the people who initially inspired his dental journey. 

“When a person has been in pain for months and is able to get a tooth fixed, and the first thing they do is hug you, it’s truly an incredible feeling,” he said. “These trips have reinforced my dedication to service and have deepened my understanding of the global need for oral healthcare.”

Looking ahead, McKernan aspires to become a Fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry (FAGD) and plans to educate fellow dentists on LGBTQ+ cultural competency. Additionally, he aims to expand the outreach of Big Gay Smiles and continue contributing to HIV research, leaving an indelible mark on dentistry and patient lives.

512 Smiles, Austin, Texas

With no personal connection to the field, Priya P. Meghpara, DMD said choosing dentistry felt like a leap of faith.

“It was difficult narrowing down a career choice that would provide both professional and personal fulfillment,” Meghpara said. “I feel incredibly lucky that dentistry has provided me with both.”

In the early days of her career, Meghpara moved frequently, which prevented her from establishing a place in the community. But in 2022, she purchased her own practice, and in 2023 she completed the requirements to apply for a Fellowship of the Academy of General Dentistry (FAGD).

“It is an incredible feeling to finally have a practice to call ‘home,’” she said. “Practice ownership and achieving Fellowship are long-awaited milestones in my career. It feels like a new beginning.”

Meghpara’s clinical focus on temporomandibular disorders (TMDs) and airway issues started when she took a few continuing education (CE) courses on the topics that led to more questions than answers. 

“Taking CE from well-respected, research-based thought leaders has helped build upon previous knowledge,” Meghpara said. “Patients returning with reduced and improved symptoms has made the process fulfilling, while the desire to effectively and conservatively treat a wider range of patients has driven my desire for continued learning.”

Meghpara enjoys practicing comprehensive general dentistry as much as she enjoys helping patients with TMJ-related concerns.  Regardless of the patient’s needs, Meghpara uses the same approach to build relationships with her patients. 

“I make it a point to walk away from every conversation knowing the patient understands our discussion and feels comfortable and confident to make a decision about their care,” Meghpara said. “If they aren’t quite there, I always leave the door open for more questions once they’ve had time to process.”

As she looks to 2024, Meghpara said her focus will be on emphasizing the personalized feel that is a major strength of her small private practice.

“Right now, I am focused on giving each person who walks through our front doors the best possible care we can,” Meghpara said. “For me, that means continuing to invest in my education, in the patient experience and in my team.

Compass Dental, Wyomissing, Pennsylvania

Growing up, Amanda Sonntag, DDS, MAGD, got to see her dad in action at his dental practice. She admired his kind and comforting manner with patients.

“I loved the idea of getting to help patients and make them feel as comfortable as he made me feel while I was at his office,” Sonntag said. 

Sonntag recalled a memorable patient experience where she was able to do just that. 

“We had a patient on the Autism spectrum who didn’t have a great experience at another office in the area,” Sonntag said. “The parents and I spoke, and eventually were able to do a knee-to-knee exam. We were able to get him to open wide and have no fear in us looking in his mouth. We had won him over. It felt incredible giving the whole family an experience like that.” 

Sonntag credits her commitment to continuing education with helping create such high-quality patient experiences.

"By focusing on a goal like obtaining my MAGD, I became dedicated to learning and growing as a dentist,” Sonntag said. “I've learned to slow down and really assess the whole patient — not just treat one tooth at a time."

In addition to balancing continuing education and clinical work, Sonntag is involved in the Pennsylvania Academy of General Dentistry’s (PAGD) leadership.

“What got me involved in the PAGD was just being asked,” Sonntag said. “Sometimes it’s just about showing up.”

As the incoming PAGD President-Elect, she plans to provide mentorship and high-level education tailored to the needs of new graduates, recognizing the challenges they face in balancing schedules and commitments.

In addition to being involved in organized dentistry, Sonntag recently opened her own practice, Compass Dental. Practice ownership is exciting and hard. She said balancing all the hats she wears in the practice as an owner as well as outside of the office as a mom, wife and a coach, is a juggling act that's worth all the challenges it brings. 

“I really love what I do and enjoy sharing it with anyone who will listen.”

Wells Family Dental Group, Raleigh, North Carolina

As a kid, Adam Woll, DDS, FAGD wanted to be a doctor, but he didn’t know what kind of doctor. When he took a closer look at dentistry, he realized it was the right path for him. 

“I have always loved to work with my hands, and I loved science,” Woll said. “Dentistry is the perfect combination of two of my favorite things.”  

Woll’s love of handcrafted work reveals itself in his favorite clinical speciality: implants. He said his proudest career moments are when his craftsmanship comes to life in his patients. 

“The hugs from navigating long journeys to better a patient’s overall oral health, the life-changing smiles and the impact you can make on someone’s life through paradoxically small things are the most impactful to me,” Woll said.

Woll counts earning his AGD Fellowship (FAGD) among his proudest career achievements. 

“I’ve worked hard year after year, through long days, lunchtime learning, after-work study clubs and weekend continuing education courses to become the best dentist I can be,” Woll said.  

Beyond clinically, Woll serves as Chief Dental Officer (CDO) of his dental group’s six offices. Leading an ever-growing team has afforded him the greatest challenges and opportunities of his career so far.

“Making a difference in my associates’ life is different from doing it for a patient, but I actually find it to be more rewarding,” Woll said. “I think that’s because a person’s personality, emotions and skills are far more complex to navigate than any treatment plan could ever be.”

In helping young associates navigate the path to success, Woll stresses the importance of communication, mastering the basics and embracing lifelong learning. Woll said he feels the pressure to be excellent for his associates because that is ultimately how he can deliver the most benefit to the most patients.

“It makes me proud to enable young dentists, hygienists and assistants,” Woll said. “To impact clinicians who then impact patients’ lives is more than anything I could ever do myself.”  

Revive Dental Implant Center, Mesa, Arizona

Leila Zadeh, DMD, FAGD’s path to becoming a dentist was paved with a passion for service and a commitment to making a positive impact on individuals with complex medical conditions. She recalls a childhood tradition of giving gifts to children in local hospitals during the holiday season with her parents.

“This tradition had a monumental impact on me as it not only provided a first-hand look at the positive influence that compassionate care can have on patients and their families, but it also was my first exposure to diverse patient pools with diverse medical presentations,” Zadeh reflected. 

With a degree in neuroscience, Zadeh applied to dental school. She volunteered at the Advanced Care Clinic, where postdoctoral residents treat patients with more medically complex conditions and special needs. After finishing dental school, she was accepted to the same Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) program as a resident. After completing her residency, she was awarded the Dr. Arthur B. Levy Award and scholarship “for demonstrating compassion, love of learning and altruism.” Shortly after, she accepted a position as clinical faculty to teach in the residency program. 

These experiences helped prepare her for private practice at Revive Dental Implant Center, where she often treats patients with terminal dentition needing full mouth rehabilitation. 

“I am extremely proud of being part of a highly regarded practice that specializes in functional and aesthetic transformations for patients who have often been turned away from other practices due to the complexity of their cases,” Zadeh said. “Seeing our patients' lives become transformed is immensely fulfilling.”

Having completed over 1,000 hours of continuing education since being licensed in 2020, Zadeh’s commitment to lifelong learning stems from her belief that staying up to date with the latest in clinical dentistry is essential for delivering the highest quality care to patients. 

“My favorite aspect of dentistry is the deep human connection that comes with healing and care,” Zadeh said. “I believe treatment is more than just a mechanical act. I feel an obligation to be a team with my patients and to help them feel empowered to improve their overall health."

Kelly Rehan is a freelance journalist based in Omaha, Nebraska. To comment on this article, email impact@agd.org.