Kari Cunningham

// Dedicated Dentist // DEN ’10, ’12 // 29 //

Kari Cunningham has wanted to be a dentist since she was 12, when she learned her father once trained as a dental assistant in the U.S. Air Force.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” she says. “But he said to me, ‘Kari, you don’t have to be an assistant—go be the doctor.’ ”

Initially, Cunningham wanted to be an orthodontist. Then, as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, she traveled to Tanzania as part of a Semester at Sea program. While visiting an orphanage there, she met children who had never had any dental care at all. “That’s when I decided it’s not about braces,” she says, “it’s about basics for me.”

As a dental student at Case Western Reserve, she won a scholarship from the National Health Service Corps that commits her to spend at least four years in an underserved area.

Today, Cunningham takes pride in serving the community where she grew up. She is the first pediatric dentist at Northeast Ohio Neighborhood Health Services, a community-based health care clinic located on Cleveland’s East Side.

As part of her job, Cunningham helps patients who lack access to essential preventive care and educates them on the importance of oral health.

“My passion is serving the underserved,” says Cunningham, who also teaches dental anatomy in a summer enrichment program at the university. “I’m seeing 5- to 6-year-olds who have never seen a dentist. We serve as a safety net—increasing their access to dental care.” —LC