Jonathan Shenkin, DDS, MPH

Jonathan Shenkin DDS

Dr. Jonathan Shenkin has been practicing pediatric dentistry in Maine since 2003.

Since 2003, he has been on the faculty of Boston University. He is currently a Clinical Associate Professor of Health Policy, Health Services Research and Pediatric Dentistry in the School of Dental Medicine.

In November 2015, he completed a 2-year term as Vice President of the American Dental Association (ADA). At the time of his election, he was the youngest member of the Board of Trustees of the ADA in nearly 2 decades. He was President of the Maine Dental Association from 2009-2010.

In 2015, Dr. Shenkin was awarded a prestigious Fulbright Scholar award, and worked with pediatricians and dentists at the Belarusian State Medical University to train physicians about the oral health of children.

Since 2009, Dr. Shenkin has been a national media spokesperson on pediatric dentistry for the ADA.  He has been interviewed by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, NPR, the Associated Press, Parents Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, NBC News, ABC News, Reuters Health, and many other national media outlets.   In 2012, The New York Times awarded Dr. Shenkin their “Quotation of the Day” regarding a story on increasing decay rates in children. He served as a member of the ADA’s Council on Communications from 2009-2013, and was elected the council’s Chair for 2012-13.  From 2010-11, he served as a liaison to the ADA’s Council on Scientific Affairs.

Before moving to Maine, Dr. Shenkin received his Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from Columbia University, and a Master of Public Health degree from the Johns Hopkins University.  He completed his pediatric dentistry residency at the University of Iowa, as well as a dental public health residency at the National Institutes of Health.  Dr. Shenkin is Board certified in Pediatric Dentistry. He is a Fellow of the American College of Dentists, the International College of Dentists and the Pierre Fauchard Academy.

Get to Know Jonathan Shenkin, DDS, MPH

What made you decide to become a dentist and specialize in pediatric dentistry?

When I was younger I had to have jaw surgery after a car accident. I went to a phenomenal oral surgeon and ultimately, he became a mentor of mine. I wanted to be an oral surgeon when I went to dental school, but then I started getting involved in policy: student government president at Columbia University, involved in lobbying political issues for students and for Medicaid issues in New York. When I graduated I was in a scramble to find a career path and went on to get a public health degree at Johns Hopkins, but I felt kind of lost.

When I was around 3 years old, I went to the dentist for the first time because of a toothache, not the best time for a first dental visit,  and I had a terrible experience. It was my father’s friend and he had a dentist office in his basement—an old guy, bad lighting, like something out of a horror movie. I had a bad cavity, and he had to take the tooth out and it didn’t happen. I was the stereotypical child that couldn’t be taken anywhere.  My parents couldn’t take me to the barber to get a haircut.  Couldn’t take me to a restaurant. And they couldn’t take me to the dentist.  There was no place you’d want to take me because I was a badly behaved kid.  After the first dentist visit didn’t work out, my parents took me to a dentist who used laughing gas and had a very calm and peaceful office. They had no problem taking care of me; I had a great experience and that stuck with me.

I eventually realized I wanted to combine my interest with public policy with taking care of kids who needed care. I trained at the National Institutes of Health in dental public health, and then went on to a residency in pediatric dentistry. I’ve focused the last 17 years on my pediatric dental practice and also developing policy to improve the oral health and the overall health of children.

You’ve sat on the board of the American Dental Association, you were the president of the Maine Dental Association, and you’ve won many prestigious awards. What have those awards and positions meant to you and how do they make you a better pediatric dentist?

I have received a lot of awards over the years; honorary memberships from organizations that are important to dentistry and certificates and plaques for positions I’ve held. A lot of people put those things on a wall and try to create a museum about themselves, but all of these things are in boxes for me. I don’t get these awards and acknowledgments and place them everywhere in my office for patients and parents to see and to gawk over. I do these things because they’re important to me. The awards that go along with it are just a consequence of trying to do good things for kids. 

It’s very nice to get acknowledged for the things you do, it’s very nice for people to want to elect you for positions to represent them or to represent a profession, but I don’t do them for the sake of getting attention. I really just focus on trying to do good things. Life, for me, is not just about going to work and treating children. It’s about taking care of the community and taking care of the future of health, the public, and even taking care of people that don’t come to my office at all. 

What are the areas that you specialize in and that bring you the most personal satisfaction when you’re helping younger patients with their dental needs?

I believe in helping children be good dental patients, whereas some people believe that children should be unconscious for all dental care. I think children should be participants; I believe we can mildly sedate children for some procedures, but this is contrary to what many people are doing in the profession now, which is knocking them out with a strong sedative.

It’s also important to me that our practice is providing the most conservative care we can. I’m wary of being extremely aggressive and overtreating when there are other preventative tools that are less costly, less traumatic, and more effective. The long-term for patients has always been something that I have focused on.

Is there anything else you’d like patients to know about you personally?

I wanted to be a professional chef before I wanted to be a dentist, so if I have free time I love to be in the kitchen. I love reading and exploring different areas of policy and politics in my free time. I’ve spent a lot of time writing and I’ve published a number of papers. It’s a real joy of mine to be able to sit and write.