When Ebony McGraw needed braces while she was in middle school, she had such a positive experience that she knew she was destined to pursue a career in dentistry. She understood firsthand the impact of how a healthy smile can improve your entire worldview.
But during her senior year of high school, she became pregnant. Going to college seemed like it was no longer an option.
“I had to find a way to take care of myself and my baby,” she said.
Ebony decided her best course of action was to go down to her local Army recruiting office.
“They welcomed me with open arms, and I enlisted,” she said.
She went on to have an impressive career in the military, and is now is fulfilling her dream of working in dentistry as a hygienist at Aspen Dental. So, how did she end up here?
In 2009, when her son Caleb was just six months old, Ebony left for basic training in South Carolina. After those initial nine weeks, she trained to be a 92 Alpha — a logistics specialist — at Fort Lee in Virginia.
She then spent a year in Korea, and after that, was stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia. Ebony had many different jobs in the military — from ordering parts for and dispatching military vehicles to processing paperwork for soldiers going on leave or vacation.
“I moved up the ranks, and became a Sergeant after only four years,” she said. “I also had my second child while still in the military, and soon after that, I was stationed in Alaska.”
There, she worked in the office in charge of fixing computers, setting up internet service for the units stationed there, and addressing any service issues, as well as training the soldiers on how to set it up themselves.
While in Alaska, Ebony had the required family care plan in place — if she was deployed or in the field, she had a designated caregiver for her children.
But when the caregiver relocated out of state, she and her commander were unable to find a replacement as she continued to work.
“I was stuck. I had no one to pick my kids up and take them to school or daycare,” she said.
So, her commander gave her another option — she could be honorably discharged and the army would pay for her to go to college. She asked, “Where do I sign?”
She was elated because now, pursuing her adolescent dream of a career in dentistry was possible. In the fall of 2015, she left the military, and in January of 2016, she enrolled at Savannah Technical College to start her prerequisite work.
“I was able to complete my prerequisites within a year and got straight A’s,” she said. “I applied to the dental hygiene program soon after and was accepted on my first try.”
Ebony started the program in August of 2016 and graduated in the top three of her class in July 2019. It was a highly emotional moment; she had achieved her dream of going into dentistry after believing it was never going to happen.
She quickly got a job on the base at Fort Stewart with Coast Dental, and nine months later, the pandemic hit.
Ebony remembered, “They furloughed the entire office, and after a month, they let me go permanently,” she said. “I also happened to be pregnant with twins at the time.”
When the twins were born on July 1, 2020, she stayed home with them for several months. But without continuing to put her hygiene skills into practice, she worried that she would lose them. So, she grabbed her computer, hopped onto Indeed to look for jobs, and saw that Aspen Dental was hiring.
She told herself, “I’m just going to go for it.” And she did. She started with Aspen Dental in January of 2021.
Currently, Ebony is a floating hygienist and travels to different offices to care for patients.
“My military training prepared me well for the early mornings, moving from office to office and the physical demands of being on my feet all day,” she said.
She loves the flexibility that Aspen Dental gives her, and the ability to interact with several different doctors and hygienists. She’s also very passionate about educating her patients on good dental habits.
“I love the fact that I can give my patients the education they need so they can be better at taking care of their oral health.”
Because of that, she’s built quite a following. Recently, she asked to be put in a permanent position so that patients will be able to schedule an appointment with her at one central location.
“I went to my regional manager about a permanent position. She really listened to me, and was able put something in place to help me get a permanent position within the next few months,” she said. “Aspen Dental is all about helping you become more successful.”
Ebony also loves that Aspen Dental offers hundreds of free continuing education courses and that she’s able to do them on her own time.
She truly feels supported in a way she hasn’t since being in the military.
“I’ve had some serious health issues since starting, and they’ve been nothing but understanding,” she said. “They assured me that my job was safe, and that taking care of myself was the most important thing. No employer has ever said that to me. They really care.”
Right now, Ebony really enjoys being a hygienist and taking care of her patients. She’s seriously considered becoming an orthodontist in the future since braces are what changed her smile back in middle school and what initially drew her to dentistry.
For now, her husband and four children are her priority. Should she ever choose to go the orthodontia route later on down the road, this bright young woman and former veteran has shown that she can accomplish anything she puts her mind to, and there’s no doubt she’ll achieve that dream one day too.
Ebony lives with her husband Derrick and four children, Caleb, Harmony, Derrick Jr. and Dakota in Hinesville, Georgia.