Debra Smith, DMD, was presented with the Georgia Dental Award of Merit during the 2022 GPHA Annual Meeting and Conference on Jekyll Island. Initiated in 1989, the Georgia Dental Public Health Award is presented to an individual or organization by the Georgia Department of Public Health Oral Health Section and the Georgia Public Health Association Medical-Dental Section for outstanding services and contributions to the Georgia Dental Public Health Program nationally, regionally, statewide, and/or locally.
Dr. Smith graduated from the Medical College of Georgia in 1984. She subsequently went into solo private practice in McRae, Georgia until 1998 when she joined the South Central Health District as District Dental Director. While at South Central, she formed strong bonds with all school systems as well as key practitioners in the private sector to jump start oral screenings. Soon thereafter, she oversaw the remodeling of an old dental operatory in the Dodge County Health Department. Ever the self-started, she then spearheaded obtaining a grant to facilitate the building of a two-chair operatory in Dublin, allowing for a greatly expanded service delivery.
Dr. Smith joined the Coastal Health District in 2018 as District Dental Director and played an integral role in successfully reviving yet another public health dental program. Armed with knowledge, experience, and uncompromising enthusiasm, Dr. Smith worked closely with public health administration and vendors to design, equip, and open a brand new children’s dental clinic at the Chatham County Health Department in Savannah.
The space features three operatories and an X-ray room and serves children from 0-17. Most importantly, the clinic is focused on serving children who are un- or under-insured which goes a long way in bridging what is a very big gap in access to dental care for underserved populations in Chatham County. She continues to build partnerships that are mutually beneficial to the health department dental program and area residents, and always has the best interest of the community at heart.
In addition to building a superb dental program, Dr. Smith has demonstrated her leadership skills and teamwork by participating intimately with local emergency preparedness operations, including playing a significant role in three separate coastal hurricane evacuations and repatriations – a couple of which involved local sheltering upon reentry – as well as being an integral cog in our early COVID testing and especially in the COVID vaccination efforts.
Her warmth, genuine concern for her clients as well as coworkers is truly infectious. Everyone seems to perform better whenever she’s around. She is the epitome of a self-motivated leader who needs no supervision and somehow seems to transfer her work ethic to those around her – perhaps best described as leading by example.