Meet Dr. Lori D. Nelson, our Dental Health Partner of the Month. A veteran who served her country in the United States Air Force, Dr. Nelson now serves her community both as a dentist and advocate for people with special needs. Let’s learn more.
A native of Albany, New York, Dr. Nelson attended the State University of New York at Albany before graduating as class valedictorian from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in 1983. Dr. Nelson completed a residency with the United States Air Force in 1984, then moved to Florida to finish her military career at Patrick Air Force Base. Today, Dr. Nelson is a partner in the Ultimate Smile Design dental practice in Palm Bay, Florida.
One of Dr. Nelson’s specialties is treating people with special needs, an interest she developed while interning at her dental school’s clinic. Dr. Nelson also serves those with special needs outside her practice as a board member of Promise in Brevard, which provides affordable, independent housing for adults with cognitive and physical disabilities.
Why did you decide to become a dentist?
I really wanted to be a dentist after volunteering at the dental clinic of a local hospital where I grew up. I always loved working with my hands and wanted to help others. I was encouraged by the fact that more women were getting into the field and it seemed like a wonderful occupation for someone who wanted to be a wife and mother. I come from a line of business owners and wanted to also own my own business. It seemed like a perfect fit for me!
How long have you been practicing?
I graduated from dental school in 1983. After a residency with the USAF, I opened my practice in 1986. It’s been a joy to spend my life serving patients all these years.
What’s the most rewarding part of your career?
Having been blessed to have a career spanning more than 35 years, I have many fulfilling experiences. Besides helping my patients deal with a variety dental issues, I enjoy learning new things in the practice of dentistry and stimulating my staff by introducing them to improvements in equipment, materials and modalities. I have the pleasure of working with my lovely partner and our associate, thereby mentoring the next generation of dentists.
Can you tell us one of your funniest stories from the dental office?
I think one of the nicest things to be able to do in a day is help someone laugh, especially at the dental office! Laughter is the best medicine, and it reminds us that no matter what’s happening, there’s still love and joy in this world. We’re always sharing with our patients our funny stories of life with our kids and spouses — and hot flashes.
What do you consider dentistry’s biggest challenge?
My initial thought was that dentistry’s biggest challenge is the same as it was all those years ago when I first opened my door: dealing with patients’ fears of treatment and being able to pay for it. However, I wonder if it’s more than that. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with an older patient last week. As we finished scanning his mouth for a new restoration, he said he felt that nothing has changed as much in his lifetime as dentistry. I think he’s right, and keeping up with all that change can be challenging. Invigorating, but challenging!
What do you do in your free time?
In my free time, I enjoy walking the beach, gardening, and reading all sorts of things. I’m blessed to chair the board of a local nonprofit, Promise in Brevard, which serves adults with developmental disabilities by providing housing and employment opportunities, thus giving them the independence they and their families have longed for.
How did your time in the service influence you as a dentist?
I truly enjoyed my time in the service. I was fortunate to have completed my general practice residency at Scott AFB and was then stationed at Patrick AFB. I learned a lot about the sacrifices of our men and women as they serve our country and also the sacrifices of their families. More specifically to dentistry, I learned to do a lot with a little and I learned to appreciate my staff. I began to grasp my entrepreneurial desires and understood I prefer the private practice of dentistry over the military or corporate practice.
We’d like to take a moment to congratulate Dr. Nelson and thank her for the work she does for her community. To find out more about Dr. Nelson, visit the Ultimate Smile Design website or Facebook page.