A Dentist's Drill Area dentist serves family, patients, and country

photo by Eric Tadsen

"I'm teal," says Shayna Windstrup, D.D.S., keeping an eye on a color-coded telephone console in her shared office space at Midwest Dental on Madison's east side. When the teal-coded light blinks, Windstrup knows her next patient is ready to be seen.

It's 10:20 a.m. She goes down to meet "Axel." They enjoy some casual conversation before Windstrup quickly inspects his mouth. "Beautiful! I love when things look nice!" she says, flipping off the overhead light. Axel knows from previous visits that a crown is in his future, and he's concerned about the cost. "A thousand bucks, I suppose," he laments. "Yeah, like a mechanic," the dentist answers back, matter-of-factly, preparing him for what might be in store. She bids him goodbye, then returns to her office.

Why dentistry? "Because I like people," she answers. "But I don't like pulling people's teeth, because it's like giving up. I'd rather fix a problem. I grew up with a construction-worker father. I want to fix things."

The D.D.S. (Doctorate of Dental Surgery) designation behind her name allows her to do just that. A dentist, she explains, is more of a surgeon than a medical doctor, because most of what they do is procedural. "We go in, evaluate a situation, numb the patient and do the work. It's always hands-on." And she loves every part of it.

"Crowns, fillings. It's all about completing a project. I know a root canal will take an hour, so I'm in there, I do it, it's done. It's a task thing. At the end of the day, there's instant gratification, like cutting the grass. You do it, it's done, you look at it, and it's beautiful."

At the age of 35, Shayna Windstrup has probably lived twice the life of many people her age. She was adopted in 1976 after her birth mother abandoned her near a Seoul, South Korea police station at Christmas time. "I was three months old … crazy how stuff happens," she remarked. Six months later, she was flown to the United States and welcomed into her Minnesota family. Sixteen years later, she became a single mom to a son, now 18 years old.

With family help, Windstrup attended the College of St. Catherine's in St. Paul, Minn. majoring in sociology and accounting. "I loved sociology, but try finding a job!" she stated. She had a daughter at age 23, and was an accountant for three years before realizing accounting would not be her lifelong career. With an interest in people and health care, she applied for dental school, and in 2001, just a day before 9-11, she started at the University of Minnesota.

"It was the best and worst four years of my life," the effervescent dentist confesses. Often, she said she felt like a child first learning to write. "Everything was done in

magnification, with a mirror, looking upside- down and backwards."

Now in her fifth year of dentistry, Windstrup works 32 hours a week, which she says is typical in the dental profession. It's a great schedule for a woman raising children, she insists. In her office, dentists are paid a percentage of the total bills collected. Consequently, if patients don't pay for their dental services, the dentists take a hit.

Just then, the teal light blinks again, as it will many times during the day. Often, she'll see or evaluate 20 patients a day. "This patient needs x-rays," she says, "and her wisdom teeth are bothering her." She heads over to the examining area where "Lori," a young college student, awaits. Windstrup greets the patient and asks about any problems she may be having, checks her records, then the x-rays. She follows this with an oral cancer and periodontal screening, checking each tooth and the surrounding gum tissue for inflammation. Any problems Lori has can be easily corrected by better flossing, she says, handing the patient a personal flossing tool she can use – even while driving. "Since you can't text anymore, you'll need something to do," she jokes, with a wink.

Windstrup clearly enjoys the camaraderie she has with her office colleagues, and the fact that they often cover for one another. That will be especially important this year, which is shaping up to be a particularly memorable one for Windstrup: Recently remarried, she is expecting her third child in March, which means six weeks of maternity leave, followed by another milestone in September, when she leaves for San Antonio to attend a four-week officer's basic training leadership course with the Army National Guard. "I'm so excited about it all!" she says with exuberance, cautioning her patients to take care of themselves during her absences. "Don't chew ice! Don't eat 'old maids!'" she laughs.

Windstrup joined the Guard last year, opting to join the Army because she recognized a great need for practitioners. "I've always wanted to join. I wanted my adventure and to serve my country," she says. A support network including family, friends, and fellow employees will help make it possible. Her primary role, as an incoming Captain, will be to support the soldiers, and when on duty, she could see as many as 70 patients a day.

"The government wants to make sure soldiers are healthy. There is a medical readiness standard. As a soldier, you're the resource, the asset, and must keep yourself in good shape." Windstrup says her eight-year Guard commitment will help pay off a large chunk of her $175,000 student loan debt.

And what if she's deployed? "Nobody wants to go to a war zone, but if I get called, I'll happily go. It's my job, freedom isn't free. We take a lot of things for granted here."

In her native country, she explains, everyone serves two years of mandatory military service. "I think that's a good thing. You don't feel like you're giving anything up because everyone's doing it." College is simply delayed by two years.

This is a particularly cold day, and some cancellations are coming in. That, she says, is to be expected. But Windstrup's biggest complaint is getting stood up. "I don't like when patients forget about me," she admits, genuinely hurt. "I look forward to seeing them. I have a schedule with time set aside just for them. Rescheduling is fine, but I don't understand just not showing up. Honestly, I feel a little slighted."


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