Dr. Elijah Stephens’s road to dentistry wasn’t always the straightest path. After studying construction management at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business, he realized that dentistry would give him the opportunity to combine his passion of helping people with his love of working with his hands. It wasn’t long before joining the United States military gave him the ultimate opportunity to do just that.

Now eight years into his career, Dr. Stephens continues to serve his community as a dentist in his home state of Georgia. When he’s not spending time with his wife and three boys, Dr. Stephens still finds ways to lend a helping hand.

How did you become interested in joining the military?

A recruiter had come to our school and was talking about the benefits. My wife was not excited at all in the beginning. She thought they’d throw me out there with an M16 and say, “Good luck and go fight,” but when I talked to her about what my role would be, it changed her mindset. We played with the idea for quite some time and thought it would be a great way to be a part of something bigger. It was an amazing experience getting to be a part of the Army for six years, especially meeting the other soldiers, learning from them and being able to help a few of them out.

How did you put your dentistry knowledge to use in the military?

I was an Army dentist for six years. The first four years, I was stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia. I got to do a humanitarian mission in Honduras. While we were there, we provided dental care to impoverished children.

I also did a small deployment in Poland, Germany and Bulgaria working as a Brigade Dental Surgeon. It was a wonderful experience and opportunity. While I was in Europe, I got to perform dental procedures on U.S. soldiers, as well as civilians and multi-national forces in all kinds of challenging areas. 

Does your military experience influence how you provide care now?

Definitely. It helped shape me at the beginning of my career. I wanted to make sure that I was doing the highest quality of work, because I knew these soldiers would be under the worst conditions imaginable and the last thing we want is someone who is trying to save our nation to be worried about a toothache. The stakes aren’t quite as high now, but the quality of my work is still important to me.

What do you love about being a dentist?

I love working with my hands. I love getting to meet people of different backgrounds and learn from them. I really like the comradery of working together for the good of those around them. Civilian practice isn’t quite as rigorous as military, so there’s more leeway with my hours and there’s a little more freedom to the structure. 

In my cosmetic work, I do veneers and crowns and help rehabilitate our patents’ smiles. We sometimes get patients who don’t like to smile because their teeth aren’t what they’d like them to be. It’s amazing the change that dentistry makes in their lives. They come in and won’t even look at you at first and then, afterwards, they look you in the eye and give you a hug and are excited to be able to smile again.

What challenges do you see in the industry?

The biggest challenge we see is misinformation on the internet. The internet is a wonderful tool, and it can be used for a lot of good, but unfortunately, some people will take anything they read online as a fact. There ends up being a lot of concerns about things that have been proven to work very well. An example would be fluoride. I have patients come in very concerned about it and that it’s going to somehow destroy their lives. I have to go through studies to show them the pros and prove that we’re using appropriate dosages to help them.

What advice would you give dentists just starting out?

Always continue learning. Any dentist that you have the opportunity to work with, whether they’re general, a surgeon, pediatric or any other specialty, take the time to learn from them. Everyone has something you can learn from, and I’ve luckily had great mentors around me who have taught me so much. Don’t be closed off and stick to only what you’ve learned in dental school. There are many schools of thought and many ways of learning.

How do you balance your work and family life?

I have three boys and they’re very active, which I love. Right now, we’ve got two boys playing football and one doing jiu-jitsu. I try to make sure I’m at as many practices as I can be at and to never miss a game. I make sure they know that they’re my highest priority.

I love dentistry, but my family and my faith come first. I want to make sure they know that. Me and my wife make sure we take time to do something together at least once a week where it’s just us. Those things give me the fuel I need to do dentistry and enjoy what I do.

How do you spend your time off?

I volunteer a bit within our community, whether it be coaching or helping out on the sidelines at football with the kids or running a group at my church where we teach 11- and 12-year-olds life skills. Just the other night we had a bonfire and discussed gun safety. This is something they’re going to see in their life, and we want them to be as safe as possible and able to learn and grow and help those around them.

At Dental Town, we also have a few days where we let patients in the community come in free of charge to get the procedures they need and get them out of pain, get them comfortable and get them on the road to a healthy smile.

Congratulations to Dr. Stephens on being our Dental Health Partner of the Month! Learn more about Dental Town.