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The value of persevering

Associate Dental Director uses past inspiration to make a difference

Andrea Stahlecker, DDS

Throughout Associate Dental Director, Andrea Stahlecker’s, DDS, childhood, she and her family moved often. Every time they moved, Dr. Stahlecker saw a new dentist for regular cleanings and an orthodontist for her braces, so she became very familiar with the dentistry field.

When Dr. Stahlecker was in high school, she realized she was intrigued at the idea of becoming a dentist. With the help of her mother, she shadowed her neighbor, a pediatric dentist, and instantly knew she had found her perfect fit.

“I had so many positive experiences with all of the dentists I saw during my childhood, and I wanted to be one of those positive experiences for someone else.”

Dr. Stahlecker said her mother also played a large role in encouraging Dr. Stahlecker to pursue her dream to be a dentist and make a difference in her community.

“My mom grew up in poverty and worked hard to get into college,” said Dr. Stahlecker. “When she got to college, she found out she was reading at a sixth grade level, but she didn’t let that stop her. After finishing her bachelor’s degree, she went on to earn her master’s degree. She failed her first year, but tried again and kept fighting until she finished her degree. She was a great role model throughout my childhood.”

Dr. Stahlecker earned her degree in healthcare administration in 2007 at Creighton University. She remained at Creighton for her doctoral dental education.

During her time in dental school, Dr. Stahlecker volunteered at Creighton’s OneWorld volunteer clinic. OneWorld created a treatment plan and referred patients in need of extra financial assistance to the bi-monthly volunteer clinic. For $20, dental students then completed as much of each patient’s treatment plan as possible during the two-hour timeframe.

“I thought it was a great service,” said Dr. Stahlecker. “It made me fall in love with the patient population, and I enjoyed being able to help our community.”

Dr. Stahlecker led the program during her last year in dental school. She also completed an externship at OneWorld.

“That experience solidified that I wanted to work at OneWorld,” said Dr. Stahlecker. “I felt so good being there, and I knew I could be so honest with patients about their care.”

When she graduated in 2012, Dr. Stahlecker accepted a job at a Federally Qualified Health Center in Columbus, Nebraska. During her time there, she helped cover a weekly emergency dental clinic.

Six months later, Dr. Stahlecker accepted a position at OneWorld.

“The more experience I got, the more I realized that I really enjoy the emergency dental process,” said Dr. Stahlecker. “At that time, if a patient had a problem like a toothache or if they needed their denture adjusted, we couldn’t get them in right away. So I approached our Dental Director, Dr. Brian Penly, with the idea. With his support and a grant for our Northwest clinic we were able to open the clinic in 2017.”

Nearly six years later, the emergency dental clinic remains a big part of the Northwest clinic’s dental services. In 2022, the clinic had 2,852 visits total, with an average of 237 visits per month.

The emergency dental clinic is open to all community members Monday-Friday, and follows a first-come, first served model. Doors open at 7:45 a.m., and patients sign up and are assigned a number. Dr. Stahlecker, along with the assistance of two dental assistants, assess and treat any emergent needs for as many patients as possible each day.

Dr. Stahlecker said she is grateful for her mother who encouraged her to pursue her dream to be a dentist.

“My mother showed me the value of persevering,” said Dr. Stahlecker. “Diversity increases success, and women’s perspectives and ideas are a piece of that. I want to encourage everyone, no matter who you are, to keep pushing because that is how we can make our community a better place for everyone.”

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