With a long-standing love of dental hygiene dating back to the 8th grade, Karen Davis, RDH, BSDH, maintains a career that spans a variety of disciplines. She is the owner of a continuing education company, Cutting Edge Concepts, and continues to practice part-time in a Dallas-based progressive dental office at which she has worked for the past 27 years. She presents continuing education programs both nationally and globally, and has authored numerous papers on a variety of oral health topics.
As an industry insider, Davis has served as a key opinion leader for some of the most well-known dental manufacturers, including Procter & Gamble, OralDNA, Orascoptic, OraPharma, and Philips Oral Healthcare. She is also a long-standing member of Dimensions of Dental Hygiene’s Corporate Council.
What initiated your interest in dental hygiene as a career?
Eighth grade is a pivotal time during adolescence, and I was fortunate to be attending a junior high school in Electra, Texas, when a mobile dental unit from Texas Women’s University visited our school. We were able to tour the mobile unit and learn about different health professions. For most students, the tour was just an excuse to get out of class—but for me, it ignited an interest in health care. At my next dental appointment, I asked the dental hygienist, Laura Todd, RDH, about her professional path. Her enthusiasm about dental hygiene as a career choice sold me immediately. You never know when your influence will ignite a spark in someone else.
At what point in your career did you realize you wanted to expand your professional interests beyond private practice?
My decision to move beyond the treatment room was, interestingly, a condition of my employment when I accepted a full-time position as a dental hygienist in the office of Tom McDougal, DDS, in 1985. This was 6 years into my career. In my new role, I replaced Nancy Brooks, RDH, who, in addition to providing clinical treatment, led a break-out group for dental hygienists that participated in the continuing education seminars McDougal provided several times per year. The practice wanted me to fulfill this duty as well, but I had never done anything like it before. It turned out that I enjoyed leading these groups, and study clubs began inviting me to speak to their dental hygiene teams. These experiences helped me become comfortable creating content and presenting it to others.
What were some of the key steps you took in starting your own continuing education company?
In 1999, I was divorced and raising a daughter on my private practice and part-time consulting salary. A friend of mine, who happened to be a successful entrepreneur, simply asked, “Karen, if you could do anything you wanted right now with your career, what would it be?” I resisted answering, not because I didn’t know, but because I thought my dream was impossible. I wanted to be a full-time speaker in the dental profession. Over the next few weeks my friend challenged me to dream big. I identified the obstacles and began brainstorming solutions. By the end of 1999, I did what felt like jumping off a cliff: I quit my full-time job with benefits and reduced my clinical services to 1 day a week, devoting the rest of my time to starting Cutting Edge Concepts. I now travel the country providing presentations designed to inspire the dental team’s commitment to excellence, provide solutions to the challenges facing dentistry today, and help team members develop the communication skills necessary to improve case acceptance and patient outcomes.
What advice would you give to other dental hygienists who have an entrepreneurial spirit?
Articulating what I wanted to do and then writing it down helped make my dream come to life. Don’t be afraid to be bold about what you want. Then research your dream by answering the following questions:
1. What resources do I need to pursue this?
2. What can I learn from others who have done this, or something similar? Who are they?
3. What obstacles prevent me from doing this now?
4. What do I need to overcome the most obvious impediments to achieving my goal?
5. Who can I collaborate with that will keep me be accountable and dedicated to pursuing my dream?
You serve as a key opinion leader (KOL) for dental firms. What are some of the benefits of collaborating with and working in industry?
I am always humbled to rub shoulders with other KOLs within the dental and dental hygiene industries. They are often inspirational, and, in their presence, I inevitably learn something new. In addition to the opportunity for continued professional growth that serving as an industry KOL offers, I have been fortunate to help shape the development of certain products. And there is also a deep satisfaction that comes from sharing your experience and insight with companies seeking your input.