As a non-traditional student, Dr. Mark Whitlock’s journey to dentistry has been an unlikely one. He dropped out of college at 19, sold all of his belongings, and bought a ticket around the world. He wanted to experience life outside of the United States and explore communities with varying socio-economic statuses, religions, and cultures. Dr. Whitlock lived in 18 countries in six years, building relationships with locals and being welcomed into homes and communities everywhere he went.
Dr. Whitlock’s time spent in Third World countries taught him to appreciate many things: good hygiene, access to quality medical and dental care, community relationships, and the power of personal interactions.
Dr. Whitlock returned to the United States at 26, and his life unexpectedly changed overnight: He found himself in love for the first time. Within six months of starting their relationship, his then-girlfriend was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Suddenly, he was no longer responsible for only himself. He was now a caregiver – taking his future wife to appointments, nursing her back to health after surgery, keeping her company, and caring for her through chemotherapy and radiation. He asked questions, listened carefully to her needs, and realized a yearning to make a difference.
In the midst of his wife’s battle with cancer, he established a business in Memphis. Dr. Whitlock built, marketed, and operated a profitable carpet cleaning business for over seven years, amassing more than 5,000 loyal clients. Servicing their homes and seeing the smiles on their faces was rewarding. As clients learned of his wife’s fight and asked questions, he found himself sharing their story. He also found a great sense of accomplishment in informing others about the need for preventive care. Through these conversations, and his experiences with his wife’s diagnosis, treatment and recovery, he knew he had more to give the community than clean carpets. He discovered that he wanted to be a part of the medical community.
His began his research to discover precisely what he wanted to do. As dentists have been a part of his wife’s family for generations, he took advantage of his family contacts and shadowed several practitioners with varying focuses. After his first week of seeing cavities filled, chipped teeth fixed, and dentures placed, followed by the smiles on the newly confident faces, he knew that he wanted to be a part of the dental community.
Dr. Whitlock’s first experience shadowing took him back to his time on the island of Gili Meno in South Indonesia, where every day he played in the ocean with the local kids. There were two young sisters who were both very shy. They covered their mouths when they ate or talked, shielding their crooked and decaying teeth from sight. He wanted so much to help them, but he had no dental skills. So instead, he learned words to express beauty in their language.
When he engaged them, he used these words to build up their confidence. Eventually, they put their hands down and showed him their smiles. It was tremendous for Dr. Whitlock to watch the transformation in these girls and to see how much more outgoing they became through their interactions.
Dr. Whitlock imagined a similar and perhaps even more profound impact as a dentist. Thus he realized, albeit later than some, that dentistry is his calling.
With a new drive and a passion for a profession that he one day hoped to call his own, he returned home from his shadowing experiences, sold his company, and immersed himself into life as a full-time student.
He graduated from the University of Memphis with a bachelor’s degree in biology and earned his Doctor of Dental Surgery from the University of Tennessee Dental School. He loves serving his community and improving the lives of neighbors, peers, and friends and making a positive impact on his small corner of the world.
Fun fact: He met his wife while waiting on her table at a restaurant in South Beach, FL. They have four beautiful children. He loves the Tennessee Vols.