Answering the Call to Dentistry and Public Health

Jo Ann Weatherwax receives School of Dentistry-Dental Hygiene Alumni Achievement Award
Dental Hygiene Alumni Awardee Jo Ann Weatherwax

Each year, the UMKC Alumni Association recognizes the achievements of outstanding alumni with an awards celebration. The School of Dentistry is honoring Jo Ann Weatherwax (B.S.D.H. ’06, M.S. ’12) with its Class of 2022 Dental Hygiene Alumni Achievement Award.

Weatherwax served as the founding dental program director for the Volusia County Health Department in Daytona Beach, Florida and has dedicated her career to help solving the national issue of access to oral health care services. As the first dental hygienist to serve as a dental director at a county health department in Florida, Weatherwax developed a clinical program, added an additional clinic to serve the western area of Volusia County and established a county-wide school sealant and oral health education program.

Her dedication to the health department and safety net programs in Volusia County has resulted in the delivery of oral health care services to countless children and families. Along with her work in public health, Weatherwax has served in numerous leadership roles including most recently as the President of the Florida Dental Hygiene Association.

What inspired you to address oral health care by establishing a dental health program for the Volusia County Health Department?

In 2008, Volusia County had a very large population of Medicaid children. The county had unsuccessfully tried to establish a dental program. The children were suffering, families were frustrated and community trust was being tested. While my love has always been for dentistry, my passion has been public health. This was an opportunity to put into action my love, my passion, my education, my grass roots training and serve the most vulnerable of Volusia County.

How did your career begin? Where do you see it going?

My desire for a career in dentistry began in my teenage years when my orthodontist encouraged me to consider working in the field. I was amazed at the positive changes taking place in my oral health. If this could happen to me, then I wanted to help others have the same experience. At the age of 17, I jumped at the first opportunity at employment in the dental field and it was the best career decision I could have ever made.

As time marched on, I found myself wanting to do more. I started my formal education in dental hygiene and while in school we were required to rotate through a public health dental program. One of my professors and my public health mentor (also a UMKC alumni), Dr. Mike Allen, encouraged all students to consider serving in public health. For me, it was a perfect fit.

What advice do you have for students who’d like to follow in your footsteps?

Search your soul, your heart and your motivation. Becoming a community dental director takes additional education, experience, perseverance and don’t forget prayer. Do not let yourself or others limit you. Look to the dental community for a mentor who is willing to invest in you. This may require moving and it may require more formal education but you can do it.

What drew you to UMKC?

I actually live in Florida but attended UMKC remotely. The UMKC School of Dentistry stood out for its high quality and respect in the dental community as well as the caliber of educators. While my professors challenged me, they also supported me and wanted me to be successful.

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My proudest accomplishment is achieving my master’s degree from UMKC as I am the first in my family to go to college. While my journey was long and challenging, the final walk across the stage with four grandchildren and my husband in the audience was a very proud moment.

About Alumni Awards

Join us in honoring Weatherwax and the other Class of 2022 awardees at an in-person celebration at 6 p.m. April 29, at the James C. Olson Performing Arts Center. To register, visit UMKC's Alumni Association website. If you are unable to attend the event but would like to donate to student scholarships, contributions can be made online.

Learn more about School of Dentistry

Published: Mar 24, 2022

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