|| This dentist loves to bring smiles
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DAVENPORT -- Dr. Krista Kukarans always will remember the smile that made her want to be a dentist.
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Photo: Todd Welvaert|
Dr. Krista Kukarans changed careers and earned a doctor of dental surgery degree in 2007 after working as a baker/cake designer in her own business, Krista's Creations.
The smile belonged to a woman who lost most of her front teeth in a car accident, and Dr. Kukarans met her while working as a dental assistant.
"I assisted the doctor in rebuilding her smile, and that was the turning point," she said.
The 45-year-old Blue Grass woman is in her second career. Before becoming a dentist, she had spent many years crafting cakes. When she completed the career switch from baker/cake designer to dentist, she said there was some good-natured teasing from people in nearby DeWitt, Iowa, where she grew up.
" 'Sell us cake and rot our teeth and become a dentist,' " she remembered with a smile.
Becoming a dentist wasn't what she dreamed of as a little girl, but when it became her dream later in life, she gave it her all. She went back to school, was accepted into dental college, and graduated with a doctor of dental surgery degree (DDS) in 2007. The next year, she purchased the Family Dentistry practice at 2305 Jersey Ridge Road in Davenport from Dr. Lawrence Huber.
Dr. Kukarans had owned Krista's Creations, a baking/wedding cake business that she operated out of her parents' DeWitt basement, where she had a full commercial setup. Her mother, Melva Hurley, said she and her husband, Leland, were "kind of surprised -- pleased, but surprised" about the career switch. She said her daughter has carried her perfectionism she had while making cakes over to her new career.
"She attacks her dental work the same way -- as a perfectionist," she said.
Dr. Kukarans said she always loved being in the kitchen while growing up, and she started cake decorating in junior high. "I would practice making (frosting) roses after school," she said. After high school, she went to college for a while before she decided to leave to be a baker. She worked for several grocery store bakeries before starting her own business.
She scaled back her business in 2000 when she and her husband, Archie, built their Blue Grass home. The pair did a lot of the construction work themselves. After the house was completed, she took the part-time dental assistant job, and about a year later she made the decision to make a permanent career switch.
"I loved the patients, and I loved the work," she said.
Soon, Dr. Kukarans was taking prerequisite courses to prepare for dental school.
She and her husband decided if she couldn't get into dental school, she'd go to school to became a dental hygienist, which is a two-year program. At first, Dr. Kukarans took courses at Scott Community College. She then took courses at both Scott and the University of Iowa in 2002, taking Monday, Wednesday and Friday classes at one campus, and Tuesday and Thursday classes at the other.
"That was a little crazy," she said.
When Dr. Kukarans was eligible, she applied to Iowa's dental school. For months, she'd check her status online every few days, and it always said "pending," until one day it said she had been accepted. She remembers thinking, "Is this real?"
Dr. Kukarans logged out of the computer and then logged back in to make sure.
"I had tears running down my face, all into my keyboard," she said.
When she first decided she wanted to be a dentist, she knew she wouldn't be a typical dental student.
"I knew if I was going to do this, I needed to do it as quickly as possible," she said.
Most of her peers in dental school were in their 20s, although one other person was about her age and there were a couple five years younger or so.
At first she was worried about the age gap, but she soon realized it didn't matter.
"We were all in the same boat," she said.
The couple bought a trailer so Dr. Kukarans could live in Iowa City during the week while in school.
In 2007, she graduated with her DDS, her very first degree. While there are prerequisites students must take, an undergraduate degree isn't required for admission. She also had to take the Dental Admissions Test.
"There were many students that did the same thing," she said. Right after graduating, she worked as a dentist in northern Wisconsin at a large clinic. She'd visit her husband or he'd visit her on weekends when possible.
In 2008, she was able to start working much closer to home after purchasing Family Dentistry.
Dr. Kukarans said she loves working with the patients and wants to help them be as comfortable as possible, including an office with a more spa-like atmosphere.
The practice's waiting room has a seashell fountain and cozy furniture, and there are big windows in the rooms where dental work is done.
When it comes to making a career switch, Dr. Kukarans said people who want to make one need to set goals for themselves and know it's hard work.
"There will be some sacrifices along the way, but if that's something you really want, you set your eye on the goal," she said.
For months while in dental school, on her desk she kept a printout of an inspirational email her mother sent her.
It read: "Be determined in achieving your goals," and featured a picture of a mouse in a football helmet near a mousetrap with a big chunk of cheese, his eye on the prize.
Living the dream
Who: Dr. Krista Kukarans, former baker/cake designer who went to school and became a dentist
Quote: "There will be some sacrifices along the way, but if that's something you really want, you set your eye on the goal."