05 Dec Boettcher Scholar smiles his way through dental school
Matt Iritani has always wanted to be a dentist. In fact, before he could sign his own name, Matt used crayons to draw a picture of himself as a dentist—a picture that he has kept all these years as a reminder of his lifelong goal.
A 2011 Boettcher Scholar, Matt attended Cherry Creek High School, just blocks from his parents’ dental practice.
“People often don’t like going to the dentist, but they loved my parents,” recalls Matt. His parents valued being involved in the community where they practiced and getting to know their patients beyond the dentist’s chair.
“Still, my parents go to patients’ swim meets, softball games, my mom even has patients fly in from Alaska to see her,” said Matt. “I like the idea of developing relationships with my own patients and being able to volunteer and be involved in the community the way my parents have.”
Currently, Matt is in dental school at the University of Colorado Denver, where his dad teaches in the program.
“One of the coolest aspects of dental school is actually getting to talk with my parents about the profession,” Matt said.
Being able to talk to his dad, share techniques and talk about advances in dentistry is one of Matt’s favorite parts of his chosen path. With each semester of dental school that passes, despite challenging classes, he is reassured that this is the right profession for him.
“I get this feeling that this is where I am supposed to be and this is what I am supposed to do,” said Matt. “It is a little surreal, kind of like a Hollywood movie.”
After Matt earns his dental degree, he plans to continue his studies in an orthodontics residency, and to eventually open his own practice in Colorado, likely close to where he grew up.
But in the meantime, when he is not mounting stone models of mouths, Matt volunteers at a student-run medical clinic in Aurora, as well as Children’s Hospital. He’s also active in the Japanese-American community, and on the UCD campus, where he values giving back.
“I am an upperclassman, and it’s now my turn to pass on some of what I’ve learned,” Matt said. “The Boettcher Foundation obviously provides us with a lot of opportunities [as scholars], and I am finally beginning to feel like I am in the position to pay it forward.”
Matt makes sure to share both his time as a volunteer, as well as his ever-positive attitude. Perhaps that’s why his friends, fellow classmates and even his professors have nicknamed him “Smiley.”
Even during the most difficult weeks of school, Matt never loses his smile, and aims to help brighten other people’s day.
“You might have a really tough day, the procedure is not working out the way you want it to or a professor might be chewing you out, but don’t get down on yourself,” Matt likes to remind his friends. “We all have those days.”