Dental Dedication and Good Cheer

School of Dentistry alumni share a unique link to the Kansas City Chiefs
dentistry faculty shows pom poms outside Arrowhead Stadium

The connection between cheerleading and the field of dentistry is quite clear for Ashley Hobbs (B.S.D.H. ’11). As a member of the Kansas City Chiefs cheerleading squad, she used her athletic skills to pump up crowds and keep them smiling at Arrowhead Stadium. Now, as a dental hygienist, she’s still focused on bright smiles – but she’s using a different set of skills to motivate and engage with her patients.

“You are their oral health coach,” Hobbs said of her patients. “As a cheerleader, you bring positivity, and you lift everyone up. I do the same for my patients. You are encouraging them to not only improve their oral health, but their overall quality of life.”

Hobbs is a pediatric dental hygienist, a proud alumna and a faculty member at UMKC. And from 2013 to 2016, she was also a Chiefs cheerleader, a unique experience she shares with other School of Dentistry alumni. The school counts several former Chiefs cheerleaders and at least one Chiefs drumline member among its alumni ranks.

These alumni have taken valuable lessons into their careers from their days on the sidelines. For Hobbs, Tim Albright (D.D.S. ’21) and Kathryn Teruya (D.D.S. ’22), the experience reinforced the importance of discipline, teamwork and putting people first.

Smiles in the Crowd and in the Chair

As a member of the Chiefs drumline, the KC Rumble, from 2016 to 2020, Albright was energized by the crowd. Now he gets that feeling from the gratitude of his patients. Whether it’s an undetectable filling or a straightened Invisalign finish, the smiles of his patients take him back to his days drumming in front of 70,000 screaming fans.

“I still experience euphoria whenever I have a solid crown,” Albright said. “Your patient is happy, they’re gleaming. It’s the same look I would get playing music for people. It keeps me going.”

Time in front of fans was not limited to game day. The Rumble and the cheerleaders had public appearances throughout the week. These opportunities to connect with people prepared them for future chairside interactions.

“Everybody has something they’re passionate about. With people who may be apathetic about their dental care, you’re trying to find what sparks them,” Albright said. “Once you find their icebreaker, you’re able to make that connection.”

Public appearances also provided Hobbs an opportunity to hone her pediatric skills. There were often kids excited to meet the cheer squad. Those conversations laid the groundwork for the six years she’s practiced in pediatric dentistry.

“Just learning how to interact with them,” Hobbs said. “I took everything that I learned from the Chiefs and applied it to my work in pediatrics.”


Discipline in Dance, Drumming and Dentistry

Whether drumming or dancing, a common thread emerges: discipline.
All three credit the discipline required to succeed in their respective crafts with helping them manage the rigors of dental school.

That discipline was formed back in seventh grade for Albright, when he took up drumming and would practice until midnight every night. Dental school changed his perspective, however.

“I don’t think you need 10,000 hours to master something anymore,” Albright said. “I learned in dental school about the importance of deliberate practice.”

Discipline is also essential in cheerleading because of the demanding schedule. For Hobbs, cheering for the Chiefs felt like a full-time job on top of her full-time job as a hygienist. She had weekly appearances and daily five-hour practices in addition to long game days. She also had fitness testing, mandatory training sessions and extra time in the gym.

“I was newly graduated and new to the dental hygiene profession,” Hobbs said. “It was a struggle juggling both lives.”

Hobbs and Teruya said their love of dance drove them to take on the arduous schedule. Hobbs has a degree in dance and lived in New York, performing with professional dance companies before coming to UMKC. She taught dance while in dental hygiene school.

Dance has been a presence in Teruya’s life since she was three. A former Miss Hawaii (she was crowned in 2017), she’s an experienced dancer in hula, ballet and jazz. She credits the perfectionist nature dancers have to her success in dentistry.

“We always joked on our (Chiefs) dance team that a lot of us are type-A people,” Teruya said. “That correlates well to dentistry. We like things orderly and in a particular way.”

Although the pull toward dance was strong for both Hobbs and Teruya, their priority was always UMKC. Hobbs was laser-focused on becoming a full-time faculty member. Teruya juggled many activities while at the dental school, including the Chiefs cheer squad from 2020 to 2021. But the pursuit she valued most was that of future dentist.

“First and foremost, I moved from Hawaii to Kansas City to be a dental student,” she said.

Team and Community in the Dental Practice

The cheerleading schedule was grueling, Hobbs and Teruya admitted. But they loved being part of a team of women who lifted each other up, both literally and figuratively.

“It’s much more than just dancing on the sidelines,” said Hobbs. “It became a sisterhood where you were supportive of one another and you were in it together.”

During Teruya’s time at UMKC, her two teams joined together for TeamSmile, an event at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium with Chiefs players, coaches and cheerleaders during which UMKC students and faculty provide dental care to underserved children. She got to participate as both a student and a cheerleader.

“It was one of my favorite memories,” Teruya said. “It was really special to be able to celebrate my classmates and connect with the kids.”

The moments standing in front of a crowd at “the loudest stadium in the world” may now be only memories for Hobbs, Teruya and Albright, but those memories serve a purpose. The discipline formed, strong bonds made and feelings that come with energizing a crowd have all made an impact on who they are as dental professionals. The dedication, sense of community and drive to help people connects the worlds of cheer and dentistry.

“Every single year a student will ask, ‘were you really a Chiefs cheerleader?’ and every time I wonder, ‘when will this not be a thing anymore?’” Hobbs said. “But those are some of the best memories of my life and I wouldn’t change it.”

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Published: Dec 5, 2022

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