Rising star: Ganter named to ADA’s 10 Under 10
Alumna Dr. Stephanie Ganter, periodontist and the upbeat co-host of “Between Two Teeth,” was named to the American Dental Association’s 2023 10 Under 10.
The awards recognize 10 early-career dentists who demonstrate excellence in the profession, but Ganter insists the award represents more than that.
“It’s not meant to specifically be about the 10 people chosen; it’s meant to recognize all new dentists and what they’re bringing to the table,” she said. “This is about new dentists making a mark. We’re just the face of it.”
Ganter graduated from Texas A&M School of Dentistry in 2016 with her DDS and again in 2019 after completing her periodontal and implant surgery residency. She is co-owner with Dr. Robert McNeill of a combined periodontics and oral and maxillofacial surgery practice – the first of its kind – in Garland, Texas. The duo also star in “Between Two Teeth,” a YouTube channel they created on the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic to connect, discover and inspire life within and beyond the field of dentistry.
Ganter pursued periodontics after being drawn to surgical procedures as a child. Her dad kept pigeons at that time, and when one went missing, she was convinced it was eaten by a snake. Her family didn’t believe her, so Ganter set out to prove her theory by performing surgery on the snake, which had been found dead.
“I went in the house and got my kid surgical gloves and a little doctor’s kit,” she said with a laugh. “I cut open this dead snake, and sure enough, a pigeon was there. As soon as I made my first incision, it was love. My dad was like, ‘you are so different.’”
When Ganter wasn’t performing emergency surgeries in the yard, she was throwing herself into school, sports and church.
This approach carried her through high school, a collegiate running career at Stephen F. Austin State University and into dental school, but the self-described golden child said the challenges of residency were her introduction to the sharp corners of reality.
When she graduated in 2019, she found herself at loose ends, the conclusion to a well-executed academic career but unsure where to go next.
“That’s where my story begins,” she said. “It’s not about your planned path. Your story really begins when you’re planned path becomes unplanned.”
McNeill, an oral surgeon who is also on the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners, was looking for a periodontist, and after talking with Ganter he invited her on a medical mission trip to Guatemala for a working interview. Despite being intimidated by his board position and pondering the reality of a partnership between an oral surgeon and periodontist, she decided to go and be open to the possibility.
“That was a moment of self-determination,” she said. “I was supposed to be mentoring dental students on the trip, but I ended up learning important lessons on that trip. The most important thing I learned is you don’t have to be perfect in life to accomplish everything.”
As students opened up during times of personal testimony, Ganter heard stories of past addiction, homelessness and taking breaks from dental school to deal with personal problems.
“But guess what? They were all back, they were all fine and they were all crushing it,” she said. “All this time I had been chasing other people’s approval – my parents’, my coaches’, everybody – and I suddenly just thought: I’m going to stop living my life this way, for prestige and awards … and I realize the irony of the ADA 10 Under 10 … but I’m going to start living it for me.”
Ganter joined McNeill in practice following the Guatemala trip, but the COVID-19 pandemic hit just six months after she started, sending everyone into isolation. During this time, and with proper safety measures in place, she and McNeill began inviting a few colleagues to the office to simply talk and connect with each other. They all gathered around a blue couch, which quickly became a symbol for community.
“These get-togethers helped us realize how much people in our community need an outlet, and we decided we wanted to broadcast the blue couch to a larger audience,” she said.
In 2021, they turned their talks into a YouTube show in homage to Zach Galifianakis’ “Between Two Ferns.” Their popularity is skyrocketing, and they’ve been tapped to act as hosts on the main stage at ADA SmileCon 2023 in Orlando this fall.
“We started out discussing the same topics we had talked about on the blue couch, but as our notoriety grew, we’ve started doing interviews,” Ganter said. “We’re looking for specific kinds of people, and we interview them on value-driven life topics. Hopefully through that we can be inspired, but also inspire someone who just needs that message that day.”
In addition to facilitating connection and community, the pandemic also pushed Ganter to consider her continuing education and her philosophies as she built a practice. She recently completed a two-year Integrative Medicine Fellowship with the University of Arizona School of Medicine and an international surgical leadership program through Harvard Medical School, where she was elected class speaker.
“They vote someone in who embodies the essence of the course, and I was so proud of that,” she said. “What people think is the most impressive thing about me, may not necessarily be what I’m most proud of. I think that’s where happiness in life comes from – knowing what makes you proud.”
To recharge and stay engaged, Ganter continues to pursue mission opportunities, recently completing a trip to Poland through the International Medical Relief Association, providing dental treatment to Ukrainian refugees. She also pursues opportunities through Texas Mission of Mercy events.
Ganter serves in board positions for the Dallas County Dental Society and the American Dental Association. In her free time, you can often find her on the rink, playing hockey or riding her motorcycle – always looking for the next adventure.
“If I have any advice for dental students or young dentists, it’s to keep your eyes up, your heart open, your mind clear,” she said, “and the world is at your fingertips.”