At the lowest point in her life Dr. Brianna ‘Crash’ Ganson finds dentistry #IE40Under40

Uncertainty does not stop Dr. Brianna Ganson; in fact, she thrives when faced with obstacles and danger. The 39-year-old adrenaline enthusiast from Missouri has survived parachuting from planes, riding out a storm that inundated a Louisiana city and swimming with sharks off the coast of Hawaii.

The most challenging part of her career: “[The] desire to own my own business.” The determination to become an entrepreneur tested the Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 honoree’s perseverance and commitment to her goals.

Dr. Brianna Ganson after her first tandem-skydive.

The first time Dr. Ganson skydived unaccompanied (not in tandem), things did not go as planned. After jumping from a plane at around 13,000 feet, she free-fell for much longer than anticipated, missing the drop zone and earning her an appropriate nickname.

“Once you pull your chute, you are all alone. I was so mesmerized by my surroundings that I wasn’t paying attention to my altimeter (altitude gauge). I was expecting a voice to come over the radio when I needed to start heading towards the drop zone. By the time I realized no one was talking to me, I was too far away from the drop zone to get there in time. I “crashed” into the trees, hence the nickname: ‘Crash.'”

Dr. Brianna Ganson on her harrowing first time, solo skydive.

Ganson landed safely. That jump and crash landing took place near her alma mater, a school where she learned the inner-workings of the human mind at the University of San Diego.

Four years after “Crash” graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, she began her professional career as an underwriter for State Farm in Columbia, Missouri, in 2005. She planned to own a business like her father, who also worked for State Farm.

That same year, Dr. Ganson found a job over 700 miles away — a position that was accompanied by the pungent smell of Old Bay and the sounds of creole dialects. The city was New Orleans, a place where she knew no one. The Crescent City held what the doctor believed was a chance to start her own business.

“I ended up getting and accepting the position. I packed my bags in April and moved to a city I had never been to before. I continued dating the same guy long distance, and it was going well. I felt like I was on this amazing path, both professionally and personally. Then just like that, the switch flipped.”

Dr. Brianna Ganson on her long-awaited career opportunity with State Farm.

Stirring in the Gulf of Mexico was a threat to the livelihood and well-being of not only Dr. Ganson but to every person in New Orleans. One of the most deadly natural disasters in American history — Hurricane Katrina — made landfall in Southeastern Louisiana. Katrina, responsible for 1,833 fatalities, brought sustained winds and rain that pummeled the Bayou State. The hurricane blew away all sense of normalcy and left a city that resembled a dystopia.

Dr. Brianna Ganson saw devastation after Hurricane Katrina.

“My apartment was uninhabitable, so I had to stay with a couple in Baton Rouge and commute to New Orleans for work. Being in the insurance business, my job became a priority and was extremely stressful.”

Dr. Brianna Ganson, describing life after Hurricane Katrina.

After Katrina, insurance agents like Ganson were swamped with work. It did not take long for the two or sometimes three-hour commutes from Baton Rouge and tiresome workdays to grind and wash away Dr. Ganson’s happiness, leaving her in a state of perpetual stress.

She wanted a way out of post-Katrina, Louisiana, life. She found refuge where she began her career with State Farm in Columbia, MO, an agency that had the prospect of leading Ganson to entrepreneurship.

“I was so relieved to be out of New Orleans as well as to have what I thought was my dream job. My boyfriend proposed in December and I said yes. Even though Katrina totally upended my life, I felt like I was getting back on track.”

Dr. Brianna Ganson.
When driving through neighborhoods post-Katrina, Dr. Brianna Ganson saw x-codes. The left identifies the rescue squad; the top represents the date the team arrived; the right represents what hazards are inside; and the bottom lists the number of people found.

While training to become an agent, she worked in different State Farm agencies throughout Missouri. She soon discovered she was not in love with insurance. The five years she spent following the career path of her father, a trail adorned with car and home insurance policies, did not fulfill her. She wanted something else.

In October, 2006, nearly a year after Dr. Ganson was engaged, her fiancé broke off their engagement, bringing the insurance professional to the lowest point in her life. She was in a career she disliked, was separated from her longtime boyfriend and to make matters worse, the puppy she had adopted to bring her joy died due to health issues.

“It was like a country music song: ‘I went through a hurricane, got dumped by my man. Had to put my dog to sleep, got hit by a van.’ OK, the last one didn’t happen, but you get my point. I needed a serious change. As strange as it sounds, the lowest point in my life led me to dentistry. While helping others rebuild their lives in New Orleans, I was also learning the steps I would need to rebuild my own life.”

Dr. Brianna Ganson depicting her low.

Inspired by the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team (DMORT) that searched through desolate neighborhoods after Katrina, Dr. Ganson found a new career path, a new interest that she then did not yet understand. Using dental forensics, the team of doctors and pathologists helped identify bodies in the days and weeks after the hurricane.

Another X-Code somewhere in the devastated suburbs of New Orleans.

After a breakup and unfulfilling career, the girl from Missouri was driven by a new-found enthusiasm.

“I quit my job, moved back home, and worked for a whole year to get into dental school. In 2008, I started over on a new path, the right path, to become a dentist.”

Dr. Brianna Ganson realizing her new role.

Ganson spent four years at the University of Missouri School of Dentistry and earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) in 2012. Shortly after, she accepted a position as a general dentist at Rhoades Family Dentistry.

She married Troy Ganson while in dental school. In her first year as a dentist, she experienced challenges in her personal life: she had her first child, Knox, and, unexpectedly, her father was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident.

Dr. Ganson juggled the responsibilities of caring for her newborn, helping her parents adjust to her father’s disability and maintaining her new dental role. The vision of owning her own business never left her sight.

When the first opportunity arose to buy her own business, Dr. Ganson turned-down the chance to buy an established dental practice and instead began to work for a non-profit organization called Miles of Smiles.

“This organization is a portable dental clinic that goes into schools to help children who may otherwise not receive dental care. I loved every minute of it and discovered my passion to be a pediatric dentist.”

Dr. Brianna Ganson describing how she discovered her dental specialty.

She discovered her dental niche and her devotion to help children, but the final ingredient of her career continued to elude her. The last element Dr. Ganson needed was her own practice. A colleague of hers knew just the place, but when they presented the doctor with the opportunity of business ownership, fear struck her.

Dr. Brianna Ganson cave diving off the Hawaiian coast.

She made a list of pros and cons, discussed her options with her husband and family, to no avail. Although, one conversation that she will never forget gave her the nudge she needed to follow her bliss. That advice came from her father, who inspired her entrepreneurial spirit.

When her father began his business working with State Farm, “he worked tirelessly to start his agency from scratch. He was driving home from work one night after a daunting day in the office. He was so frustrated and scared that he wouldn’t succeed,” Dr. Ganson explained. “He needed to vent, so he rolled his window down and screamed as loud as he could at these poor cows. Then he told me, ‘Brianna, if owning your own business was easy, everyone would do it.'”

That conversation with her father was the last bit of advice the doctor needed. She bought the pediatric dental practice and turned it into Happy Teeth Dentistry.

Happy Teeth Dentistry is named in memory of her father. While recovering from his accident he went to therapy three times a week. “I always wanted him to walk again, no matter how impossible that may have seemed. I decided to name the practice Happy Teeth as a spin-off of the movie ‘Happy Feet.’ I wanted him to have happy feet. I wanted him to walk,” she explained.

(Shown, from left) Dental Assistant Dominique Fisher, Office Administrator Lacee Jordan, Office Manager Ann Roehl, Dr. Brianna Ganson, Dental Assistant Lauren Harris, and Dental Assistant Jaclyn York.

Today, the woman who survived hurricane Katrina helps children maintain and restore their smiles at her office in Leawood, Kansas.

“My most favorite part of dentistry is when I get a child out of pain. A child may have been having trouble eating, talking, drinking, embarrassed to smile, and I get the opportunity to make them happy and healthy again. When a parent says they are so relieved because their child is acting like him or herself again, I have done my job. I love that.”

Dr. Brianna Ganson on the joys of dentistry.

Aside from her career, Dr. Ganson is most passionate about her family. She husband raise two children together, son, Knox, 7, and daughter, Brinkley, 5. She and her family love adrenaline activities. Dr. Ganson and her husband swam with sharks on her recent trip to Hawaii for the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry annual session.

“I have been scuba diving many times and have seen sharks before, but I wanted to get up close and personal.  I knew this would be my chance. We were in a cage and were so close to the sharks. I could have reached out and touched them. Sharks do not want to eat humans, but I didn’t want to take the chance since I need my hands to work.”

Dr. Brianna Ganson.

If you would like to learn more about Dr. Brianna Ganson and her practice, visit https://happyteethbyganson.com/.

Read more about her in Incisal Edge here: Incisal Edge