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Rising Dental Health Leader Alumni Award
Harlyn K. Susarla, DMD, MPH, Peds ’16
This award recognizes a graduate from the past 10 years whose accomplishments enhance the perception of the dental profession and who has demonstrated remarkable service to the community. The 2023 award honors Harlyn K. Susarla, DMD, MPH, Peds ’16, in recognition of her advocacy on behalf of children’s oral health and commitment to serving her profession.
As a child, Susarla, the daughter of a physician and a scientist, had dreams of being a doctor and helping others, played violin, loved drawing, and competed as a figure skater. In dentistry, she discovered a profession that drew upon many of the skills she had honed in her youth. “I always thought I wanted to be a pediatrician, but as I got older, I realized there were many ways to be involved in health care,” she said.
“I began looking into dentistry and worked as dental assistant. I also have an artistic background, and I began to realize that nearly every aspect of dentistry allows you to use your hands. Additionally, dentistry allows you to help make change in so many ways – clinically, through research, teaching, leadership, and advocacy.”
Susarla, who lives in Seattle, WA, is a 2006 graduate of Wellesley College. In 2009, she completed a Master of Public Health degree at Boston University. In 2013, she was awarded her Doctor of Dental Medicine from Harvard School of Dental Medicine and followed that with a pediatric dental residency at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD).
“I truly feel grateful to have been a resident at Maryland. The faculty there fostered a sense of wonder in all of us,” she said. “We had the unique opportunity to be in involved in clinical care in a dental school setting, in a hospital, and in a community-based clinic. I appreciated that I was able to learn about different aspects of care and how to be a critical thinker, and [after the residency] really missed being involved with an interdisciplinary team treating medically complex patients.”
Since then, the mother of two daughters has built a multifaceted career as a pediatric dentist, educator, and advocate on behalf of the dental profession. Last year, she was named by the American Dental Association as a 10 Under 10 Award recipient, in recognition of her advocacy for children's oral health and dedication to service.
After seven years in private practice, Susarla will be joining the dental team at the Seattle Children’s Hospital, where she will participate in all aspects of hospital dental practice: the ambulatory clinic, operating room, emergency department, and throughout the hospital where dental consultation is needed. In this role, she will continue to supervise and teach pediatric dental residents as an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Dentistry.
Susarla participates in organized dentistry at the local, state, and national levels, as well. She is the president-elect of the Seattle-King County Dental Society, where she is a delegate and a member of the special committee on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).
She also serves on the nominations committee and the DEI workgroup for the Washington State Dental Association and is a Washington state representative for the Western Society of Pediatric Dentistry district board of trustees and a past president of the Washington State Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.
Nationally, she serves as a trustee for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) Foundation, is the new diplomate representative for the College of Diplomates of the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry, and a consultant on the AAPD Council on Scientific Affairs, the consumer review committee, and the committee on early career pediatric dentists. She also has published numerous book chapters and articles in peer-reviewed medical and dental literature.
Her interest in organized dentistry began at UMSOD, Susarla said. “When I was a resident, I was invited by a faculty member to one of the Maryland Pediatric Academy of Dentistry board meetings. That is when I realized that I could make a difference and meaningfully impact the practice of dentistry. It is through my experiences at UMSOD that I decided to make a lifelong commitment to promote high quality, equitable care for every child, and advocate for my colleagues and our profession.”