Stuefen is one of the youngest elected members of the ADA Board
Friday, May 24, 2024

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the Spring 2024 Dental Link Magazine. To view the original publication, click here.

In October, Sara Stuefen (’10 DDS) will become the District 10 Trustee for the American Dental Association (ADA). It’s an important opportunity for Stuefen to bring a new perspective to organized dentistry that fosters more diversity, continue advocating for dentists and patients, and be part of something bigger than herself or her Vinton, Iowa, practice.

“The direction I see the ADA going? I see positivity, opportunity for growth, and even more advocacy for our patients. We want more,” says Stuefen. “But many organizations, whether within the dental community or elsewhere, are seeing less and less involvement. That’s something we can work to change.”

As one of the youngest elected members of the ADA Board, Stuefen will soon become one of 17 trustees as she represents the 10th District, which is comprised of Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The Board of Trustees are tasked with guiding the profession at the national level and Stuefen’s appointment will mean she is serving as the collective voice of more than 6,500 dentists and even more patients.

“The biggest thing the ADA does is advocacy. That is not just for dentists, but also for patients. When we’re talking about potential legislative changes, a lot of them are for our patient’s access to care.” says Stuefen, adding that “diversity in this profession is important to expand access for all patients. This position is for the dental community and the stronger our voice, the better.”

So when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it provided Stuefen an opportunity to think what her long-term goals were, what kind of impact she wanted to have, and how she might affect change at a higher level.

“I think a lot of dentists and a lot of people I talked to were reevaluating what they were doing with themselves,” says Stuefen, “Part of that was me going, I love doing dentistry, I love working on a patient and helping them, but I also have this major passion for something bigger than my practice.”

Sara Stuefen poses for a photo in the Oral B Classroom

Stuefen started building her practice in 2010 following her graduation from the University of Iowa College of Dentistry. Over the 13 years since her practice was established, there is one aspect she is most proud of.

“The strong bond that we have within my team and the ability for everyone to work together” says Stuefen, “is one of our strengths – to work together and provide exceptional care for our patients.”

As an undergraduate at Iowa, Stuefen had unknowingly found a close-knit community that instilled those traits in her while at a visit to the college’s clinics. It helped shape the future of a student who was unsure of which medical field to pursue.

“I was a patient at the College from middle school on, so I was coming here, and I was thinking medicine all along,” says Stuefen, “I was getting my teeth cleaned and my mom was bragging to Dr. (John) Warren about my grades, and Dr. Warren said, ‘you should think about dentistry,’. He got the director of admissions to come down and talk to me and got me thinking that this could be a pathway for me. Things just clicked.”

And when she was a student in 2008, classmates and faculty members came to her aid when historic flooding forced her out of her home.

“My husband and I had just purchased a house in Cedar Rapids and our house flooded, but one of the things you get from a close-knit group of students and faculty working together, is that they helped me out a lot,” says Stuefen. “I could still study but we lost pretty much everything.” 

Stuefen said they were just trying to make it through. Her classmates helped clean out her house and faculty donated furniture to replace some of what she lost. Those acts of kindness gave a blueprint for the type of dental community she wanted to remain part of.

Now, Stuefen will give back in her own way. Her experiences at Iowa have translated into how she runs her practice and established values she will bring to the ADA later this year in hopes of making lasting change at a higher level.

And while getting to this point was tough, she wouldn’t substitute it for anything and will tell any student the same thing.

“Dentistry is such a wonderful profession to be a part of and it provides so many different avenues,” says Stuefen. “It will all be worth it.”