Like mother, like daughter

Dr. Kayci Harris joins her mother, Dr. Kellie Harris, in Taos family dentistry practice

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When Kayci Harris graduated from Taos High School in 2008, she was voted “most likely to be a dentist.” And in 2017, she has become one, joining her mother’s practice at Northern New Mexico Cosmetic Dentistry in Taos.

“I’m looking forward to years of working with her,” Dr. Kellie Harris said, Kayci Harris’ mother and the principal dentist of the practice.

But the newly graduated doctor didn’t always want to be a dentist. In fact, she described having a “livid” reaction to her snarky, if not prescient, high school superlative. She attributed her initial resistance to pursuing dentistry to the traditionally rebellious feelings that define many a teenager.

“I swore that I’d never be a dentist,” Kayci Harris said. “And here I am.”

Since 1998, the Harris’ office has been located in an office park on Gusdorf Road. The spacious Spanish Revival-inspired office is decorated with Southwestern furniture, paintings of Western landscapes, high ceilings with bronze-colored inlays paired with light filters decorated with cloud designs. Patients are greeted at a semicircular check-in desk that opens into the interior of the facility, where individual patient chairs are cordoned off by 6-foot walls. Their main office is a dome-like room, with a round, dark glass table. On the walls, visitors will see a massive computer screen, bookshelves and framed certificates. In all, the circular room evokes the sense of a command center – reflective of a gleaming, high-tech operation.

“Similarly to how I never wanted to be a dentist, I avoided the office like the plague,” Kayci Harris said. But occasionally during her childhood, she could be found performing tasks at the office, such as sterilizing equipment, developing X-rays, filing paperwork and helping out with the American Dental Association Foundation’s “Give Kids a Smile Day.” She also launched and managed the practice’s social media.

Kayci Harris graduated from the University of New Mexico in 2013, majoring in biology with a minor in chemistry. She received her doctorate in dentistry at the Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, on June 1.

Her mother was among the first in her family to go to college and graduate. She received her degree in dentistry at the University of the Pacific in San Francisco in 1996, when Kayci Harris was 5 years old.

A photo in the office depicts Kayci Harris handing her mother flowers on that mid-1990s day. And this year, the memory has come full circle, as Kellie Harris participated in her daughter’s hooding ceremony this June.

“That was probably one of the highlights of my life,” Kellie Harris said.

Kayci Harris plans to spend three days a week at the practice’s newly acquired office in Embudo, taking over for Dr. Richard Padberg, who is retiring. But she still intends to be in at her mother’s office on Mondays and Fridays.

She brings to the practice a working knowledge of the most cutting-edge dental technology. Additionally, she specializes in dental implants, which are metal frames that are fused into jawbones to better support artificial teeth.

“You don’t realize how much artistry is in dentistry until you’re actually doing the dentistry,” Kayci Harris said.

Overall, the Harrises have upgraded the technology at the office for Kayci’s arrival, including the introduction of an “extraoral” X-ray machine (an X-ray device that can take images from outside of the mouth).

But the Harris’ mother-daughter legacy in dentistry is still something of a novelty.

“It’s very rare,” Kayci Harris said. “I only knew one other girl in my dental class who was going into practice with her mother.” She explained that most of the family dentistry succession she’s heard about involved father-to-son or father-to-daughter passings of the torch.

“It’s a dream come true,” Kellie Harris said. “I really look forward to her taking over the practice someday.”

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