Alumni of Distinction: Ghazal Ringler
by Matt Jardin |
Dr. Ghazal Ringler, B.S. Biological Sciences '01, will receive the 2020 Alumni Humanitarian award at the virtual Homecoming Breakfast on Oct. 9.
When you book a dentist appointment with UAA biology alumna Dr. Ghazal Ringler, chief dental officer at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center (ANHC), chances are you’re getting the complete package.
Dr. Ringler is a strong advocate for a holistic approach to health care. Measuring blood sugar and blood pressure is routine for her dental patients, and she’ll regularly collaborate with other doctors at ANHC — where a sliding fee discount is offered based on income — to ensure that any and all of a patient’s health care needs are met.
“If you have a car, you don’t just fill it up with gas, but also change the oil and do maintenance. You have to take care of the whole car,” said Dr. Ringler. “Your body is the same way. You eat through your mouth, you taste through it, you absorb nutrients through it. If you are not able to do any of that, how are you going to take care of your body? Any neglect that goes toward the mouth reflects in your body, and that should be part of health care, it is all connected.”
“There are times where you see people choose between saving their teeth or putting food on the table for their family because dental care is not affordable for everyone,” she continued. “And I think that should be an integrated part of health care. That should be accessible and affordable to everyone.”
That comprehensive approach extends to the wider community. By collaborating with other volunteer providers as president of the Alaska Academy of General Dentistry and as a member of the Alaska Dental Society and American Dental Association, Dr. Ringler ensures that Alaskans without insurance or living in underserved areas have access to dental care.
“We can make anything happen if we all work together. We all have different backgrounds, gifts and talents. If we come together and discuss the problem with open minds, we can find a way to move forward,” said Dr. Ringler. “I couldn’t become a dentist on my own. You must be driven and willing to put in the hard work, and then you need the help of your instructors, support of your family, encouragement of your classmates, et cetera. In order to provide the best health care possible, we all need to contribute.”
Additionally, as a board member of Anchorage Project Access (APA), Dr. Ringler’s role was critical in establishing the group’s donated dental program as ANHC serves as the dental health home for APA patients, taking six years to plan and implement. For the past 10 years, she also has been a volunteer at Project Homeless Connect, a yearly event that serves the homeless population in Anchorage.
Before becoming a dentist, Dr. Ringler moved to Alaska from Tehran in April 1995 with only $200 in her pocket. In the five months between arriving and starting at UAA, she worked two jobs while learning English by watching soap operas.
After earning her Doctor of Dental Medicine from Oregon Health and Science University in 2006, Dr. Ringler returned to Alaska to practice at Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Bethel for four years. During that time, she traveled to 56 surrounding villages to provide dental care, often sleeping on the floor or on exam tables at the local clinics.
“My whole life was built here in Alaska and my dreams came through here, and I feel Alaska and Alaskan people have given me an opportunity and now it’s my time to give back,” she said.
Knowing she’s helping her community is its own reward for Dr. Ringler, but the smiles from each patient are an added bonus.
“When you realize you’re touching people’s lives, that is the most rewarding — the hug that you get from someone when you give them dentures or the little kid that hugs you because you got them out of pain,” said Dr. Ringler. “In some lines of work you cannot see something change instantly. In dentistry, however, a lot of times you can see your final work right away. You can see the satisfaction in your patient’s face that you have touched their life.”
Written by Matt Jardin, UAA Office of University Advancement