Alumni, Dental Hygiene

ASOD alum and author makes oral health care fun

Latia Smith is an ASOD alumna and author of three children's books on oral hygiene.
A woman and a child hold a book

Latia Smith often reads her books aloud to children at local libraries near her home in Valley Stream, New York.

Latia Smith, a dental hygienist and UNC Adams School of Dentistry alumna, has embraced a new chapter of her oral health career, as the author of three pediatric dentistry books, with a fourth on the way.

Smith, 40, lives in Valley Stream, N.Y., and graduated from ASOD’s dental hygiene program in 2011, after gaining oral health experience as a dental assistant in the U.S. Navy.

“Working in a general dentistry setting exposed me to various specialties in the field. I was taught how to perform expanded functions outside of the normal scope of dental assisting, which allowed me to practice “two handed” dentistry. At the end of my military term, I was awarded financial assistance to continue my education, where I decided to pursue a degree in dental hygiene,” Smith said.

Putting ideas on paper

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Smith found herself with time to reflect on her work with children, and she had an idea to write down some common scenarios children face at the dentist and orthodontist.

“Working with the kids and certain pediatric dentists helped inspire me to think of what kind of stories kids go through on a day to day basis, getting braces, fillings and cleanings,” Smith said. “I would hear stories that children were afraid to go to the dentist but I didn’t experience that first-hand. I thought it might be fun to write about the good side of it.”

Smith has written three books and has a fourth on the way.

Armed with personal insight and a few ideas to go on, Smith dove right in to writing, despite having never authored anything before. “It was a brand new experience,” she said.

But Smith wrote what she knew and based her first book, “Peter’s Trip to the Dentist,” on a real character, a dentist whose chairside manner had a positive effect on the children that came in for care.

“She was just really good with the kids, and they were really excited to see her,” Smith said. “For the book, I mimicked what she did and how she acted with the children.”

The response to her first book was positive, and she had other ideas she wanted to get down on paper, so Smith wrote “Mimi Gets a Tooth Filling” and “Charlotte Gets Braces.”

The “fun” in function

Smith draws inspiration for her books from her patients.

Smith said she stresses home oral health care in her books, but she also tries to keep it fun — balancing important dental care with demonstrations, showing the different tools used to take care of teeth, and healthy diet choices to make when it comes to choosing food and beverages in order to keep teeth healthy.

Smith often reads her books aloud to children at various events at local schools in her community and said she feels she’s making a positive impact, so she has several readings planned for the future. She has also done virtual readings on Facebook Live.

“People say ‘I wish these books were available for me as a kid because I didn’t like going to the dentist,’ ” she said.

Expanding her reach

To continue to spread her positive message about oral health care, Smith hopes to expand her reach beyond just the pages of a book. She’s looking into using YouTube as a platform to share the stories, as well.

“I would offer some education and then incorporate pieces of the reading material, so there is something further to have, a nice leave-behind,” she said.

And while Smith is working on a fourth book, she continues to practice as a dental hygienist and sees patients on a regular basis, offering her the chance to enjoy her job both in and out of the clinic.

“Writing is so rewarding, but it’s new to me. I really never envisioned doing this, and I can’t believe I did it on my own!”