BY MEREDITH KNIGHT | PHOTO BY LAKE POINTE PHOTO
When Brigette Koetter counts her many blessings, she never wants to forget how blessed she is to have had an outstanding mentor who invested in her, someone who taught through example that success has to do with more than just a thriving dental practice. It’s also about investing in others, whether those others are her family, her patients, her staff, or others coming up behind her in the field.
“I started working for Dr. Carmella Knoernschild when I was 15. I worked for her throughout high school. Then, she prepared me for my college assisting job and mentored me through my dental school application process,” Dr. Koetter said. “Dr. K was one of the first female orthodontists in Arkansas, and she was passionate about bringing other women into the dentistry field.”
Dr. Knoernschild told young Brigette tales about being one of only two women in a large class of men in dental school and having to struggle for everything she got. “She put me to work treating patients and expected me to perform as well as assistants who’d been doing the job for years. I owe my first ‘A’ in the clinic to her because I was so confident working with patients. Dr. K owned her own practice and encouraged me to follow in her footsteps. She was helpful and caring. She truly loved what she did and wanted to pass that passion on to me and others.”
Brigette went on to marry, complete dental school, and establish her own private practice where she’s now Dr. K to her patients. “It came full circle for me, even in my name at the office,” she said. “I can’t thank the first Dr. K enough for fighting to blaze the path for me and other women like me, allowing us to see we could do it, too.”
Dr. Koetter is passionate about continuing the work that was begun by her mentor. As soon as she got her own private practice up and running, she began to look around for women she could mentor and inspire the way Dr. K had done for her. She found them through the dental assisting program at Gene Burton College Career Center in Rockwall, and she’s currently mentoring several young women through the program.
“We have one student per week who shadows all of our departments and learns from each one of my staff members,” Dr. Koetter said. “We teach them the importance of a strong work family and show them how, when we work together, we can accomplish great things for our patients.”
Some of the students the team is mentoring are on track to become dentists themselves. Others want to be hygienists or dental assistants. “It’s invaluable for them to see the job being performed and ask questions in real time about what they see,” Dr. Koetter said. “It takes their learning out of the books and the classroom and makes it real, helping them truly see whether they want to integrate into this field. My time with Dr. K, watching her amazing rapport with her patients and the way she actually became part of their lives helped me realize the dental field was perfect for me. It’s a job where we’re able to truly affect the health and happiness of people of all ages.
“The girls who are shadowing us are learning the newest technology such as digital X-rays, digital scanner for impressions, and a Cerec mill where we can fabricate same-day crowns right in the office,” Dr. Koetter said. “But they’re also learning that the most important part of dentistry is relationship — the relationships of respect and collaboration among the dental team and the relationships we forge with our patients, laughing and talking with them, educating them about their oral health, and just sharing our lives with them. I’m not sure they’d learn all that in a classroom.”
When not on the job, Dr. Koetter does her most important mentoring as a mom of a 16, 12, and three-year-old. She serves on the board of National Charity League, where she volunteers alongside her daughter. Through the league, the two can do their part volunteering for worthy causes such as Meals on Wheels, Helping Hands, Children’s Advocacy Center, Patriot Paws, and several more local nonprofits.
“There are so many materialistic things a mother and daughter can do together,” she said. “But this is something that helps develop her empathy and teaches her to give back of the gifts she’s been given.” She’s also always eager to support her patients’ endeavors, whether it’s sponsoring their sports team or school fundraiser or donating to the causes that are important to them.
And she never wants to forget that her first and most effective female mentor was her mother. “My mom always said, ‘You can do anything you set your mind to.’ She taught me that through hard work and passion for my chosen career, I could achieve whatever I wanted,” said Dr. Koetter. “I had my daughter in dental school and was lucky to have people like Dr K who’d gone before me and were eager to share the experienced they’d lived with me. I learned from the people who were willing to teach. Now I try to do the same for those coming after me.
“I think women bring a special quality to dentistry,” Dr. Koetter said. “We’re in a position to really impact someone’s life — whether it’s relieving the pain of a patient with a toothache, taking our time to show our youngest patients that time in the dental chair isn’t scary, or performing a complete mouth reconstruction for someone who feels bad about their smile. Dentistry also allows me time to care for my patients, while still having plenty of time for my kids and husband. And something my dad taught me has certainly proven true — if you have a passion for the work you do, it will never feel like work.”
1375 Ridge Road
Rockwall, Texas 75087