Experiential Learning Pointed Joe Montesano, DMD24, Directly to Dentistry

August 14, 2020
Headshot of Joe Montesano, DMD24

Joe Montesano, DMD24, grew up in Roxbury, New Jersey, a small suburban town in the northern part of the state. An alumnus of Seton Hall University, Montesano graduated with degrees in biology and philosophy.

Before enrolling at HSDM, Montesano spent a gap year working as a dental assistant in the same dental office that sparked his interest in dentistry several years prior. Even in the midst of the pandemic, this dental office remained open and busy treating patients from all over the state.

In addition to dentistry, Montesano is interested in philosophy and ethics. When he’s not working or studying, he also enjoys horticulture and gardening. Despite having to start his dental education remotely, Montesano is excited to take a deep dive into his first-year classes at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and learn more about the link between oral and systemic health.

Joe Montesano, DMD24, poses in his new white coat ahead of HSDM's annual White Coat Ceremony.
Joe Montesano, DMD24, poses in his new white coat ahead of HSDM's annual White Coat Ceremony.
Why did you choose Harvard School of Dental Medicine?

There were two aspects of HSDM that really drew me in. First, the class size is so small that I can expect to receive dedicated attention from the faculty and staff. There is a much greater sense of community with the smaller class size. Instead of having to find your niche within a larger group of students, we have one built in for us! HSDM’s integration with the medical school also influenced my decision. With more and more studies showing the importance of the link between oral and systemic health, it is becoming incredibly important for dentists to develop an understanding of the whole body, rather than just the oral cavity. When you’re working on a patient, you are working on a full person—they are a lot more than their teeth and mouth.

What are you most excited about learning in your first year as a DMD student?

I’m very excited to learn about the link between chemistry and the body, plus all of the pathologies that come along with it. I loved chemistry in high school and college, and learning how individual molecules and enzymes can impact the whole body is very interesting. I’m also excited to begin doing patient histories and exams—I’ve worked with patients extensively before, but there is something special about finally doing so in a structured learning environment.

What are you looking forward to most about living in Boston?

As someone who has never lived in a city before, I’m excited for anything and everything! It will be really nice to explore the city with friends from HSDM after a full semester of exclusively online learning. I look forward to trying out the different cuisine around the city, as I’ve heard great things from classmates who have lived in Boston.

What are your goals for your career in dentistry?

While I have always enjoyed a sense of certainty, I’m not entirely sure where I plan to go with dentistry in my career. I truly enjoy working in a general dentist’s office with the large range of possible procedures, but I have also always been interested in oral surgery (OMFS) and the prospects of that career. I love teaching and may consider following a career in dental education in addition to treating patients. At this point, anything is possible.

Joe Montesano, DMD24, poses in Harvard gear as he kicks off his education at HSDM.
How did you become interested in pursuing a career in dentistry?

I sort of fell into pursuing dentistry. When I was in high school, I completed an internship at a local dental office—the same office I work in now! I tried to work as a medical assistant at an urgent care for a few months, but the dental office was always much more appealing. Everyone was friendly and the dentists taught me useful tips along the way, so I was enamored pretty quickly. It was wonderful to see meaningful changes in patients from one visit to the next. Five years later and I still have a great time going into work!

Share a fun fact about yourself with the HSDM community.

My current gardening challenge is growing an avocado plant, which is not exactly easy in the northeast! Also, many of the incoming students know me by the aloe plant that is always in the top left-hand corner of Zoom calls.

What advice would you give to someone who is applying to dental school, or considering applying to dental school?

For those who are considering applying to dental school and do not know if they want to pursue medicine or dentistry, I found that experiential learning was incredibly important. If I had never stepped foot and worked in the dental office, I would have never known how gratifying it really was. It is very important to do something that you find some enjoyment in. Shadowing and hands-on patient experiences were vital for helping me choose to apply.

See also: Community, Students