Growing up in her family’s practice, Altus native Hannah Henry has taken more than a keen interest in promoting dental hygiene to members of the community. She and her father, Dr. Richard “Rick” Henry, have advocated to have fluoride added to the city’s municipal water system.
Reaching out to city officials, the Henrys were told that the mechanism used to fluoridate the water supply had been broken. Fluoride is known to rebuild tooth enamel, which could reverse early signs of tooth decay, said Ms. Henry.
“Water fluoridation and fluoride supplements for little kids is something I’m passionate about and want to increase awareness,” she said. “Dad has said he’s seen a lot more cavities in little kids over the past few years because they don’t have the fluoride they need to strengthen their teeth.”
Henry also strongly advises parents to have their children age 11-13 vaccinated for human papillomavirus – which has been linked to oral and throat cancer.
“Oklahoma is one of the worst states in terms of HPV vaccinations,” she said. “I’d like to inform parents that the vaccine could help prevent oral and throat cancer as well. Oral cancer accounts for approximately three percent of cancer-related deaths each year – and it can be prevented with a vaccine.”
Henry, a student at the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry, is following in her parents’ footsteps to help promote healthy dentistry across southwest Oklahoma. Her parents, Dr. Henry and his wife Mary Beth, began working at Altus’ Val Verde Family Dentistry 30 years ago; the couple acquired the practice approximately 20 years ago.
“I grew up in the practice, worked there in high school and was an assistant there,” said Henry. “I always had an interest in dentistry and hoped to see myself helping people and building good relationships with patients.”
As a rural practice, in addition to general dentistry and orthodontics, the Henrys offer a denture clinic as well as a variety of facial aesthetic services to Altus’ 19,000 residents, many military dependents living at Altus Air Force Base as well as members of surrounding communities, she said.
Henry was the 2013 class president of Altus High School. During her senior year, she graduated from Youth Leadership Oklahoma Class XII, where she traveled across the state learning about Oklahoma’s proud history.
She was accepted to the University of Oklahoma, where she became part of the President’s Leadership Class, studied abroad in Italy, joined the international sorority Kappa Kappa Gamma. At KKG she became the vice president
of academics, motivating people to do well academically by rewarding good grades, arranging for tutors and connect them with resources they needed to succeed, she said.
“In college I volunteered with Good Shepard Mission, an Oklahoma City-based initiative to provide dental services at free or reduced cost,” said Henry. “I began volunteering through Oklahoma Mission of Mercy through dental school to get my own experience and help people.”
OKMOM is an annual event that helps dental students get some practice under the supervision of licensed and retired dentists who volunteer their time to help provide free dental care one weekend each year, said Henry. This year’s event was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“During the Oklahoma Mission of Mercy, we see thousands of people every day,” she said. “There are patients who don’t have any money at all and are in pain. It’s really nice that we can help, and they’re so grateful for the services we are able to provide. It’s really neat that we can do in that short amount of time. It’s sad to know that we’re not able to do it this year. But hopefully we’ll be back next year.”
Graduating in 2017, Henry earned her Bachelor of Science in biology, minoring in chemistry. Of more than 1,200 applicants, she is one of 56 to be accepted to OU’s
College of Dentistry and is in the top five of her class.
Henry is also part of OU’s Health Science Center’s Crimson Club, serving as a University ambassador host visiting visitors, attended campus events, and assisting with HSC student recruitment.
During breaks, Henry comes home to be with her family and friends. When able, she continues helping the community through her church family at First United Methodist of Altus as well as Operation Care.
“I was involved with a lot of stuff through my church. When I’m home, I try to be involved with things there. Mom and I recently became involved with Operation Care in Altus, a charity run by local churches that gives students shoes, hosts a clothing closet and food pantry for those in need.”
After taking her boards in May, Henry plans to return to Altus and work alongside her parents and the staff at Val Verde. She has invited classmates to think about relocating to practice in southwestern Oklahoma.
“There’s definitely a need for dentists all over southwest Oklahoma,” said Henry. “I may be the only person graduating next year who’s coming to the region. But I am excited to come back to Altus and be more involved in access-to-care issues and be able to do more charitable work.”