Student: Christian Penister

Christian Penister’s admiration for his childhood dentist and desire to provide care for the underserved led him to dentistry.

Penister, a third-year student in East Carolina University’s School of Dental Medicine, saw a lack of care and access in his hometown of Kenansville.

“The disparities that I and others have faced propelled me further into pursuing dentistry,” Penister said. “I also have four siblings that have truly inspired me to pursue the realm of pediatric dentistry.”

Penister already has had a chance to work with children in Bertie County, an underserved area about 50 miles northeast of Greenville, through the Bertie County School Based Oral Prevention Program.

The program funded by the Duke Endowment makes it possible for ECU dental school students and faculty members to provide comprehensive dental exams, X-rays, cleanings, fluoride varnish application and dental sealants to all public elementary and middle school children in Bertie County.

When the program started in 2019, Bertie County had only one or two licensed dentists for a population of about 21,000 people. According to a 2015-2016 state report, 19% of kindergartners screened in Bertie County had untreated tooth decay.

Christian Penister walks to class in the School of Dental Medicine.

“The Bertie oral health educational sessions have impacted me in the upmost ways,” Penister said. “We have been able to interact, intrigue and inspire children to continue or change their oral health habits. The experience has confirmed many of my aspirations regarding pediatric dentistry.”

In fact Penister, who earned undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry from ECU in 2019, chose ECU because of its dental school — established to address the shortage of dentists in rural regions across North Carolina.

“Dentistry became an interest of mine at a relatively young age,” Penister said. “I admired my childhood dentist and his chairside manner. I witnessed a lack of care and access in my hometown which has a socioeconomic disadvantage.”

With some time lost because of the pandemic, Penister said learning at a faster pace when classes and clinics resumed was challenging. But he feels blessed to have progressed successfully.

Last year, Penister served as treasurer of ECU Dental Student Government and historian for the Student National Dental Association.

What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year? Something special I wish I knew about ECU is how much the professors invest their time into seeing a student succeed. That is immensely invaluable and allows the student to flourish in their field of study.

What advice do you have for other students? The journey to becoming a professional student can and will be long and tough. It is important to remain humble and diligent, meeting adversity head-on. A constant reflection of your “why” will sustain your motivation during times of despair and challenges. Persevere and embrace the successes as well as failures because in years to come, you will understand why you were a part of this journey.

This Pirate plans a career as a pediatric dentist in underserved areas.


Name: Christian Penister

College: School of Dental Medicine

Major: Dental Medicine

Age: 24

Classification/Year: Third year

Hometown: Kenansville

Hobbies/interests: Weightlifting, playing football/Call of Duty and reading books

Clubs and Organizations: ECU Dental Student Government, Student National Dental Association, ECU student chapter of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry


Favorite hangout: Uptown Brewing Company

Favorite place on campus: Health Sciences Student Center/Laupus Library

Favorite place to eat: Calabash Seafood

Favorite class: Immunology

Professor who influenced you the most: Tie: Dr. Yumin Li and Dr. Andrew Sargent

Favorite TV show: “Sanford and Son”

Favorite band/musician: Michael Jackson

Favorite movie: “Home Alone” (a classic)

Favorite website: YouTube


Dream job: Dentist serving in various parts of N.C.

Role model: Mother

Your words to live by: Be yourself and you will make a difference in everyone’s life