For the past four years, Kelly Sporleder has shared stories, laughter, pleasantries and sometimes tears with her patients and coworkers in the Craniofacial and Geriatric Special Care clinic at Adams School of Dentistry. The 48-year-old dental assistant has seen a lot in her line of work, but her job is rewarding and lets her spend time with the other important people in her life, her husband and daughter.
Originally from Chicago, Sporleder entered the oral health care landscape in 1997 on a whim, when a friend in Denver suggested they become dental assistants. “A girlfriend said ‘do you want to go to a dental assisting school certificate program in Colorado?’ and from there, I’ve worked in the dental field ever since,” she said.
Her family moved to North Carolina in 2014, and after her daughter entered kindergarten, she decided to continue her oral health career at ASOD. “I knew of UNC, but when I got here, I was told [working here] was a badge of honor,” she said.
Working in Craniofacial and Geriatric Special Care
Her work in the specialty clinic involves patient care and operating room assistance, keeping things organized, including ordering supplies and arranging instruments. She knows where everything is in the clinic and helps get providers, residents and students set up for the day.
“The best thing about our clinic is it’s so different from other specialties. It’s more medically complex, and it was something totally different for me. We see special needs patients and high risk patients. We take care of geriatric, pediatric and special care patients and craniofacial patients, and we see a lot of Medicaid patients, as well as uninsured and underinsured. It’s rewarding to help our patients,” she said.
Sporleder said patients sometimes drive more than four hours to get to their appointments, and helping them is one of the rewards of her job. She appreciates the hard work of the specialty care team in the clinic, and knows their patients and situations are often unique. Sporleder recalls an 11-year-old boy that came in for care during the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone was wearing masks.
“We asked him ‘what do you think about wearing masks?’ He told us ‘it makes me happy. I love it. I look like everybody else,’” Sporleder said. “It stopped me in my tracks. That was a perspective we didn’t have. We never would have thought about it, and that’s the rewarding part.”
Care and caring for patients
Sporleder loves engaging with her team and patients in the clinics and is attuned to her patients feelings and emotions. “I think my strength is making people feel like they’re not at the dentist, making a bond and connections with my patients. They feel comfortable with me,” she said. “I try to build a rapport and trust; we laugh, and I make it as fun as they want it to be. I read the room.”
Patients come to the clinic for an array of different services, but they are often older patients who need more care or cancer patients suffering side effects like crumbling teeth from chemotherapy or radiation. The cases are often medically complex, and that’s something Sporleder appreciates.
“I’ve been in dentistry for so long, and it’s a nice change to get into the medical part of dentistry I didn’t know existed,” she said.
The importance of family
She has also found a balance between her professional and personal life and doesn’t let some of the sadder cases follow her home at the end of the day.
“I’m so grateful that I have a healthy family and healthy family members. People’s stories are so sad. They are facing bad situations, but they’re amazing people,” she said. “I don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m Type A, so I have to remind myself,” she said.
Sporleder’s daughter and husband also help take her mind off the clinic when she’s not on the clock. They often do crafts together, play pickleball and volleyball, and travel to her daughter’s cheerleading competitions. They’re planning a birthday cruise to the Bahamas for her daughter’s 10th birthday. She also loves to bake, something she used to do with her grandmother.
“My daughter’s friends call me ‘Lunch Lady Kelly’ because they want to come eat and have homemade desserts,” she laughed.