40 UNDER 40 HONOREES

Valerie Okehie

  • Greenbelt, Maryland
  • Specialty

Age:

36

Name of Practice:

Elite Root Canal Specialties

Specialty:

Endodontics

Education:

University of Maryland School of Dentistry; MS and certificate of endodontics, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston


Why They Were Nominated

Born and raised in Nigeria, Dr. Okehie grew up lacking a dependable health-care system. She established the nonprofit Health Savers Foundation in 2017 to improve oral health care in developing and developed nations alike. It focuses on partnering with other established foundations in Nigeria through monetary contributions, and hopes to expand.

Why They Became a Dentist

“My experience undergoing orthodontic treatment soon after relocating to the U.S. was my first exposure to the field. I realized the impact dental health can have on one’s physical, emotional and mental well-being.”

Inspiration

“My 10-month-old daughter. In many ways, having my daughter was the catalyst in my decision to finally move forward with opening my endodontic practice.”

Biggest Challenge

“Not being taken seriously enough at times because I am a woman and look younger than my age.”

Most Memorable Patient

One who had been in an abusive relationship. “As a direct result of the abuse, she was very self- conscious about the appearance of her teeth. I listened as she spoke, and established a level of trust. Next time she returned, the procedure went smoothly because she understood that she was in a safe space. After treatment, I approached her for a handshake, but she gave me a big bear hug instead.”

Something People Don’t Know

Dr. Okehie is a very good basketball player. “Because of my athletic build, people assume that I played in school or for a team,” she says. “I actually taught myself how to play.”