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Easing Fears about Shark Teeth and the Dentist

Alumna Julia Guerrier eases dental phobia through her book, Shark Teeth.

by Tamara Holmes (B.A. '94)
Shark Teeth book cover

Alumna Julia Guerrier's book addresses children's fear of the dentist and more.

At an early age, Julia Guerrier (DDS ’13) was inspired to become a doctor after a pediatrician spoke to her kindergarten class. In time, she decided her calling was in pediatric dentistry. “Dentistry allows me to educate about oral health and nutrition, form meaningful and lasting relationships with patients, and help mitigate dental phobia,” she says.

More than a third of Americans have some level of fear of dental treatment, while 12% have an extreme fear, according to the Cleveland Clinic.“If I can reach patients at a younger age, maybe they'll realize that dental visits can be joyful,” she says. On a daily basis she educates her patients in Newark, New Jersey, about developing healthy habits such as flossing and getting regular cleanings, which may prevent traumatic experiences such as extractions and root canals later on.

If I can reach patients at a younger age, maybe they'll realize that dental visits can be joyful.”

Another dental issue in which she commonly educates is on the occurrence of “shark teeth.” Children can temporarily have a double row of teeth just like sharks, she says. “Shark teeth occur when the permanent adult teeth erupt behind the baby teeth before they have fallen out,” she explains. Guerrier wanted to soothe her young patients’ concerns so she looked for a children’s book that would explain the condition. “Most books that I saw were about visits to the dentist, but I didn't really see anything about this,” she says. So she decided to write and self-publish her own, and the book “Shark Teeth” was born.

Julia Guerrier
Julia Guerrier with her daughter, Zoe.

“My goal was to raise awareness about a common dental phenomenon,” she says. Her own daughter, Zoe, who she based a character on in the book, even experienced shark teeth. In the process of writing, Guerrier shed light on something else that was just as important: “I wanted to make my main character a Black female dentist because representation is important,” she says. Her character was a testament that Black dentists can have a profound effect in all communities. Being able to relate to a diverse patient population is important to her. Being a Spanish major who is bilingual helped her to better communicate with patients of different ethnicities. There is also a Spanish version of the book, “Dientes de Tiburon. “I love reaching out to all communities,” she says.

Howard emphasizes the important role that Black dentists can play and how they can potentially provide care in the 6,000-plus dental health professional shortage areas in the U.S. – places where dental care is largely nonexistent. Howard also provided a foundation that continues to support Guerrier to this very day. “The professors were really caring and they knew where we shine, and they always offered extra assistance if you needed it,” she says. “I have two mentors that I still talk to from Howard, Dr. Willie Winfree and Dr. Al Cheek were amazing mentors,” she says.

Howard also helped her to see that as a dentist, she, like that pediatrician who spoke before her kindergarten class, had the power to transform a young person’s life for the better. “I am inspired to continue practicing dentistry in underserved communities and raise awareness about oral health,” she says.


This story appears in the Spring/ Summer 2024 issue.
Article ID: 2051

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