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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

A Hands-On Calling: Christian Gray’s Path to Becoming a Dental Assistant

January 23, 2024

In his early twenties, Christian Gray had taken several career choices for a test-drive. He had gone to school to train as an electrical line worker, automotive technician and a couple of other industries that caught his attention. Nothing stuck except the certainty that he wanted to work with his hands. That was the one element that tied all of those job experiences together. And one other passion: making a positive difference in someone’s life.


Christian found his career direction and the perfect target of his collective skills in his role as a Registered Dental Assistant for a forward-leaning dental office as the Back Office Coordinator that provides technologically advanced dental procedures and expertise.


Why did you choose a career in the dental field?

It was kind of hilarious because I didn’t like going to the dentist and it was never something that I thought would be a calling for me. But I researched SJVC’s Dental Assisting program on the Fresno campus, and my subconscious was calling me toward it.

Once I started the program and finally got into the campus classroom (post Covid remote classrooms) where I held the instruments for the first time – I knew I had a passion for it.


Did the Dental Assisting (DA) program capture your interest?

Dentistry is so fascinating and so mind-blowing. Your teeth affect your confidence, self-esteem and overall health. Some teeth have the most interesting anatomy, and no tooth is the same and no jaw is the same. That diversity can adversely affect so many aspects of our lives.


What was the best thing about your Dental Assisting program?

It was the hands-on part. It was challenging in some aspects – getting the right X-ray, learning to perform certain procedures just right, working with instruments. But learning all this was part of the fun.

I feel like I grasped everything quicker than those around me and asked the right questions to pursue that deeper understanding of dentistry. The ever-changing field of dentistry definitely captivates me every day.


Were there any surprises in your DA education?

Many people don’t realize that procedures like gastric bypass impact the health of their teeth or that medications that cause dry mouth can cause teeth to break down. Some teeth are so worn, they can’t be saved. And that genetics or lack of proper hygiene can have a powerful effect. Dentistry is never lacking in surprises.


What career directions did your DA program open?

In talking with DA students coming out of the program, since my completion in March 2020, I felt like they most liked the orthodontics part of the DA program (braces). This branch of dentistry was also where I thought I would end up.

My extern site (on-the-job experience just prior to program completion) was at the Better Life Center for Implants and General Dentistry and, almost 4-years later, I’m still there, working in a surgical office – and now I love it more that I can put meaning to.


What is your current position?

As Back Office Coordinator for Better Life Dentistry I manage the flow of patients, perform chairside assisting, as well as assist with training new dental assistants on our technology and procedures. Dr. Ryan Dunlop’s office of 30-35 staff and multiple practitioners is always growing, changing and adopting new technology to make our lives a little easier, and our patients’ issues and needs better served.


What kinds of dental services does your office provide?

We work with full arch fixed bridges – 4-6 implants with a screw-retained prosthesis – or individual implants to replace teeth that due to structure, brittle quality or infection cannot be saved. It is expensive dentistry, but often necessary to preserve or restore dental facade and health.


Do you have favorite moments at work?

Getting to see Dr. Dunlop work at something he loves – he is world renowned. Doctors come from all over the world to learn from him. He helps patients with terminal dentition who are in pain physically and emotionally. To see them walk back through the door 180 degrees from where they were when they came here is a life-changing moment.


What skill most serves you well in your position?

Curiosity I do think is important. To learn things above my level has made me a better assistant. I feel like I have a passion to be here, to give patients the best care possible and the ability to understand everything they need to know.

I have this one patient to interact with and to help but our doctors have to think about all they see that day. I want to be the best assistant I can be for those doctors and make their interactions as productive as possible.


Are your career aspirations still in motion?

I’m in school right now to become a Registered Dental Assistant in Extended Functions. I will complete the program in January (2024). Greater understanding of this industry gives me more value to the dentist. I want to be the best assistant I can be for doctors and make their appointments as productive as possible.

Getting my certification means I’m probably here for a long time. I’m happy making our doctors’ lives easier and am very content.


How are you able to balance family and education with full-time work?

My wife, Cassandra, is about to get her degree in Kinesiology (the science of movement/exercise) and is starting a new job as an assistant coach at Move Up Fitness and Health, working with Parkinson’s and cancer patients, active or in remission. School and professional life plus our son, Kayden (4), means we’ve been very busy. We balance responsibilities very well, even after hard days.


What does your career future look like?

After getting my certification I can do fillings, composites or amalgam, take final impressions for patients and deliver permanent crowns and bridges. There are many more things I’ll be able to do for patients and to assist doctors.

I’m content where I’m at. But I really love to teach and working with (dental) externs has made me think about working out something with a local college to teach students hands-on practices. I’ve contemplated teaching at SJVC. I’m definitely open to doing that.

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