Rising Dental Health Leader Award

Kathryn Pawlak, DDS ’19Kathryn Pawlak, DDS ’19 

In recognition of her early-career efforts to influence children's dental health and contribute to the advancement of the pediatric dentistry field, Kathryn Pawlak, DDS ’19, is this year’s Rising Dental Health Leader Award honoree. 

This award honors 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. 

“As a pediatric dentist, I have the privilege of playing a crucial role in establishing early good oral health habits, which can have lasting effects on a child's overall well-being,” said Pawlak, an attending clinician at University Pediatric Dentistry. In that role, she teaches pre-doctoral dental students and post-doctoral residents. She also treats patients at John R. Oishei Children's Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y., where she works closely with the Hematology and Oncology Department. 

After graduating from Hobart William Smith Colleges in 2013 with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and Health Professions, Pawlak earned a Doctor of Dental Surgery in 2019 from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry (UMSOD) and a certificate in pediatric dentistry in 2021 from the University of Buffalo School of Dental Medicine. 

Early on, Pawlak showed a passion for serving others — particularly children.   

In 2013, while an undergraduate, she founded the non-profit, Planet Smilez, Inc, a non-profit dedicated to educating children from underserved communities about the importance of oral health care. 

During her first year at UMSOD in 2015, Pawlak started a Baltimore chapter of Planet Smilez and partnered with the Port Discovery Children’s Museum First Saturday program to teach toddlers proper brushing and flossing habits.  

Pawlak additionally formed a partnership between Planet Smilez and the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) CURE Scholars program. As a first-year dental student, she organized a summer camp featuring a week of intensive mentoring and immersive learning aimed at preparing middle and high school students from under-represented minority communities in West Baltimore for careers in health care and science.  

Called “Planet Smilez Discovering Dentistry Camp,” it offers hands-on learning opportunities for CURE Scholars to teach them about oral health prevention, nutrition, oral cancer prevention, and the importance of oral hygiene. It also offers career guidance opportunities for youth interested in careers in STEM.  

“By empowering children to become advocates for their community’s dental IQ, we foster a culture of health awareness and responsibility,” she said. “Our educational efforts are designed to introduce children to STEM and oral health careers as early as middle school, with the hope of inspiring future paths in dental assisting, dental hygiene, dentistry, academia or dental research.” 

To ensure optimum oral health for the CURE Scholars, she established the UMB CURE Scholars Oral Health Promotion, which provides dental exams and sealants to the scholars.  While at UMSOD, she also was a member of the Practice Management Club; the Maryland Academy of Pediatric Dentistry; Maryland State Dental Association; and UMB President’s Student Leadership Institute, which provides interprofessional leadership training. 

For her strong commitment to serving the Baltimore community as a student and pediatric dental clerk, Pawlak was recognized nationally by Delta Dental, Dental Trade Alliance, Hispanic Dental Association, and the American Dental Education Association. In addition, she received the UMB CURE Scholars Program Champion Award in 2016; Dean’s Award for Outstanding Community Service; and UMSOD’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry Humanitarian Award, both in 2019.  

Since 2019, she has returned to Baltimore annually to complete her outreach with the UMB Cure Scholars. This summer, she is partnering with the Maryland Department of Health, Office of Oral Health to host a Planet Smilez Discovering Dentistry Symposium for high school students from underserved areas in Maryland who are interested in dentistry.   

For her continued work with Planet Smilez, Pawlak in 2021 received the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry Resident Recognition Award, which recognizes pediatric dental residents' innovation and outreach. In the same year, Pawlak was recognized by the American Board of Pediatric Dentistry (ABPD) Richard Pugh Scholars Award for examiners who score in the top three percent of the written portion of the ABPD board examination. 

She also served as a Diplomate of the ABPD in 2022 and currently serves as a member of several professional societies including the American Dental Education Association, American Association of Women Dentists, New York Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and Northeastern Society of Pediatric Dentistry.