Growing the Dental Industry with Dr. Ron Clark
By Melissa Mendonca
Wisdom and Teeth
By Melissa Mendonca
Photos by Alexis LeClair
Dr. Ron Clark is an example of the success that can come from finding clarity of purpose. As a third grader, he responded to the ubiquitous question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There was resoluteness in his answer. He’d be a dentist.
This was odd for a young man who’d never experienced a dental exam. The awareness of dentistry existed, but he’d never reclined in a dental chair and experienced the blinding presence of an overhead light or felt the probing of dental instruments on his young teeth. Still, he held a faith and a knowing of his professional pursuit beyond his family’s circumstances.
Now, at age 69, he’s held a long career in dentistry and finds himself avoiding questions of retirement, though there are many pursuits he’d like to undertake with his time freed up, including travel with his wife, Susan. His commitment to dentistry remains and that sense of purpose is as alive as ever.
“I’m a hard worker and I love my profession,” says Clark. “I couldn’t have asked for a better profession.”
What makes Clark stand out as a professional, not only in his hometown of Red Bluff but in the North State, is his commitment to growing the dental industry. On any given day, his downtown office will have at least one high school Regional Occupational Program student learning the ropes. Fourteen have gone on to become dental hygienists. Two have become dentists, and one is in dental school now. A few others are in dental assistant programs.
“I’m not at all disappointed if they go a different direction,” he says. But he’s clearly proud of those who do continue in the world of dentistry. “Those bring you joy.”
There’s only so far he’ll go in conversation about his accomplishments, however, before he starts deflecting to the contributions of others in the growth of North State dental programs. Nothing has been accomplished on his own, he wants people to know. Many initiatives, however, bear his thumbprint.
“The day I graduated, I moved to Red Bluff,” he says of his journey from Loma Linda School of Dentistry in 1974. “I didn’t want to be in flatlands. I’d been in flatlands all my life. Red Bluff was the start of the hills.”
While he found his hills, he also encountered an environment lacking the professional resources needed to establish a full-service office. “Hygiene services had gotten so that you couldn’t hire a hygienist.”
In response, he banded with others in the Northern California Dental Society to create its nonprofit foundation, which would spur the creation of the dental hygiene program at Shasta College. “Hygiene in a junior college is the most expensive program,” he says. He and other advocates raised funds to the tune of $600,000 to get the program going. “We didn’t leave any stone unturned. We hit everyone up.”
Today, the program stands as one of the college’s most sought after and competitive. North State dentists have a continuous pool of hygienists from which to hire, and graduates have a high level of job security. “You’re never going to totally automate healthcare,” he says.
Now, Clark and others want to expand the Registered Dental Assistant programs in Butte and Shasta counties. “There’s nobody going around unemployed as a dental assistant,” he says emphatically. “Kids need to know where the jobs of the future are going to be.”
While Clark has set his sights on developing the dental industry in the North State, he’s also paid attention to who gets access to dental care and where the gaps are. He’s deeply familiar with why some children go without dental care, and he’s worked to change that, as well. He’s been a volunteer dentist for Give Kids a Smile Day for years, and is proud of the work of the First 5 Mobile Dental Clinic, which offers regular service to children and pregnant women throughout the year in Butte, Glenn and Tehama counties. “It’s worlds better,” says Clark.
Clark was a featured speaker at the 9th Annual Expect More Tehama summit in November, where the theme was “Create and Cultivate: Nourishing and Sustaining Our Future.” His story is an example of the value of not only following your own passion, but opening doors for others to access, as well. “I don’t think people realize how much you can get out of it,” he says.
Opening his office doors to so many young people exploring the world of dentistry has brought some extra bustle to an already busy environment, but Clark credits his team with making it all work out. “It’s like one big family.”
With the smile of one who has loved dentistry his entire life, he adds, “Investing in our kids – it’s the best investment we can make.”
Dr. Ronald Clark, DDS
727 Washington St., Red Bluff