I knew at an early age that I wanted a career working with children and teenagers. I love watching kids mature into young adults. I was the oldest of four children.
As the oldest, I tried to share my love for sports with my siblings and guide them towards healthy activities. As a family we played backyard kickball, enjoyed swimming pool games, and canoe camping trips.
The whimsy of childhood turned into taking them on training runs, cheering them on at sporting events, kayaking together all over the world, and coaching my brother to two wrestling state titles.
Out of all four kids, I was not the most successful athlete, but I believe involving them in my outdoor and athletic interests enabled them to develop into healthier and more successful student-athletes.
My family is a large part of why I find it so natural to pursue dental work with kids and their families to help promote good dental health!
It is easy to see how sports have been a large part of my life from a young age and have had a lasting impact on my lifestyle and goals. I began my wrestling career in 4th grade. My goal was to eventually become a state champion, just like my dad. My senior year in the state finals match I lost in the last few seconds, which put me in second place for the second straight year. I was heartbroken, wanting to take back those 15 seconds. I thought that I had worked hard enough to achieve that end goal, but fell short and lacked an opportunity to redeem myself.
My younger brother began wrestling that next year. During the summer before college, I brought my twelve-year-old brother along to lift weights and teach him wrestling moves. After a couple weeks of training, he came up to me and said, “Colton, I have two state championships to win. One for you, and one for me.” At that moment, I realized the special relationship we had, stronger than most brothers. We trained together year-round, reviewing match tapes of missed opportunities, teaching new moves and improving old ones. Before matches, I would remind him of those single seconds that I wanted back and that he should never lose focus. My brother won his first state championship his junior year. I had the fortune of coaching him on the mat’s edge in front of thousands of fans. Just seconds after his hand was raised, he came to me with a sweaty embrace and tears in his eyes, saying, “Thank you. That one was for you.”
After I finished my athletic career, I realized that I cared enough about working with kids to coach during college. It was not always easy to attend practices and travel to meets on top of maintaining grades, training for whitewater canoeing, and other extracurricular activities. I was a middle school coach for two years and a high school coach for two years. In four years, the young men I coached learned how to stay composed whether they won or lost and developed a solid work ethic. They learned how to diet properly so they could be at a healthy weight and still have energy.
During my third year of dental school I knew it would be much harder to coach, but I was determined to make time to be a wrestling coach again. In Memphis my team consisted of boys ranging from kindergarten to eighth grade. I have told all of my wrestlers the story of my missed opportunity in hopes that it will motivate them to work hard enough to achieve their goals, just as it did for my brother.
Many have assumed that I wanted to be an Orthodontist, like my dad. Four years of work as an assistant in my dad’s practice helped me confirm dentistry as my career choice, but also made me realize that I want to treat kids for more than just their braces. I like to see patients throughout their childhood to young adulthood. Pediatric dentistry allows me to see my patients mature and develop good oral hygiene habits at an early age.
It is also important to me to establish early relationships with my patients’ parents, teaching them that their child’s diet is essential to their health for years to come.
It is my goal to inspire kids to take care of themselves, to prepare them for their futures, and to show them how to have fun while being healthy.
If I had not pursued dentistry, I would have worked with kids as a teacher and a coach. Pediatric dentistry truly holds the best of both worlds for me and is the field I am excited to be a part of. I am excited to be back in Chattanooga to offer Pediatric Dentistry to this awesome city at Team Popp Dental!
Colton Popp, DDS