CMDAToday Spring 2023 Disciples In Dentistry

Disciples in Dentistry

When we meet someone new, one of the first questions we often ask is, “What do you do?” What we do is often the thing that largely defines us in broad strokes or gives us our identity.

CMDA Dental Residency [+]

By David and Katie Musser, DMD


When we meet someone new, one of the first questions we often ask is, “What do you do?” What we do is often the thing that largely defines us in broad strokes or gives us our identity. “I am a ____ (physician, dentist, midwife, teacher, stay at home mother, CEO, poet, waterslide tester [yes, that’s a real job!]).” You get the idea.

I have often been curious as to how Jesus would have answered that very question. “I am a carpenter.” Possibly—or maybe He could have said an artisan, a circuit Rabbi, a radical, a storyteller, a healer, a raiser of the dead, an exorcist, a snake crusher, the Savior of the world or the Prince of Peace. Regardless of His answer, it is worth recognizing that in our current society, what we do is typically the primary thing we say we are.

At the CMDA Dental Residency [+] Program, we answer the question, “What do you do?” with, “I do dentistry, but I am a follower of Jesus.” We believe God commissioned all of us to use our talents and skills to love and serve others. What we do (dentistry) is the avenue where we live out what Jesus told us to do (love our neighbors)—but our identity is not expressly held in our status as dentists or clinicians. We are disciples first.

Making this subtle distinction is what led CMDA’s former Vice President of Dental Ministries Dr. Jeff Amstutz down a path to address this very idea almost 10 years ago. “What if we were able to create a dental residency program that brought in young dentists and trained them by providing a unique blend of exceptional clinical experience and discipleship?” The idea was to use dentistry as a means to serve the underserved. On an even deeper level, residents would intentionally live cross-culturally in lower socio-economic neighborhoods of high need in urban communities in Memphis, Tennessee. We believe being proximate to the poor—to the suffering and the marginalized and the oppressed and the sojourners—is fundamental to our work as we seek to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). We cannot expect to see inequality and injustice transformed if we isolate ourselves in places that are safe and removed and disconnected. Our patients are our neighbors. The problems of my neighborhood are my problems.

Bryan Stevenson, a human rights lawyer, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and author of award-winning New York Times bestseller Just Mercy, said this, “It is actually in proximity to the poor that we hear things that we won’t otherwise hear, that we’ll see things we won’t otherwise see. The things we hear and see are critical to our knowledge and our capacity to problem solve.” We aren’t going to see change in the world if we are too uncomfortable to venture beyond the safety of our bubbles. Yes, we want to help close the healthcare gap and provide excellent dental care to the poor, but we also want to rub shoulders with the people we are serving outside of the clinic. We want to hear their stories—mourn with those who mourn or advocate for those who are being mistreated. It is only through proximity to our patients that we can begin to truly understand their lives and are best able to extend the healing hand of Jesus. We can do a whole lot of good in our lives, but if we aren’t loving our neighbors, it is all nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

As Paul states in Ephesians 4:12, we believe we are commissioned by Christ to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Our work is to prepare dentists to serve the dental needs of the poor, in urban and rural settings alike —in the United States and even to the far reaches of the globe. We equip dentists with the skills, character and community to share Jesus through dental excellence.

The CMDA Dental Residency [+] Program is currently located amongst the blues and BBQ of culturally rich Memphis, Tennessee. We are a partnership between CMDA and Christ Community Health Services (CCHS). CCHS is a Federally Qualified Healthcare Center (FQHC) that started as a humble medical clinic in 1995. Through the grace of God, CCHS has grown into one of the largest faith-based safety-net health centers in the nation and the largest provider of healthcare to the underserved in Shelby County across eight locations —including five dental clinics, a women’s health center, a mobile medical van for the homeless and five pharmacies. CCHS is standing in the gap, delivering quality healthcare and spiritual healing to those of our community who need it most and would otherwise be unable to get it.

There are three foundational elements to the [+] Program framework: Discipleship, Community, and Dental Excellence. That is, an emphasis on being and making disciples, living in and loving on our neighborhood and completing the NYU Langone Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) Residency with clinical training at CCHS dental. The residency program is a three-year commitment, where young dentists complete the AEGD residency in Year One while living in community and receiving clinical training at CCHS in multiple clinics. The clinics see the majority of our city’s refugee and immigrant populations, giving residents incredible opportunities to love people (from several tribes and tongues), which also feels like doing dentistry on the mission field at times! Then in Year Two and Year Three, they are hired as full-time dentists at CCHS and can apply for a loan repayment scholarship through NHSC. Our second- and third-year dentists continue to learn about practice management, train other incoming residents, grow in leadership and clinical competence and complete a month-long international rotation. This is a four-week short term trip where residents gain cross-cultural exposure to dentistry and discipleship in various contexts. Residents have served in countries in Africa and the Middle East.

So, what exactly is the “Plus” of the [+] Program? It is the invitation to join a tightknit community of like-minded disciples and their families (known as the [+] Family). It is an invitation to be a part of something bigger than yourself. It is a place where you can practice living out the gospel in all aspects of your life. It is designed to put you into proximity with people and neighborhoods you would otherwise drive right past.

The significance to this “[+]” symbol is didactically defined through these five core competencies: Clinical Skills, Administrative/Operational, Spiritual Depth, Missional Living and Leadership. These competencies guide our three year [+] curriculum, a portion of which is studied every Wednesday night, our “[+] Night.” This weekly gathering is a major contributor in developing community and discipleship as each resident, faculty member and their families gather to learn, pray, worship and share a meal. This simple rhythm of breaking bread together is one of the main factors that helps establish a strong sense of belonging within the program. It is the healthy cadence that comes with building a vibrant community of believers who are simply doing life together.

Every month also has one social event on the calendar. These are fun-filled, integral times that build up the community aspect of the [+] Family as we laugh and make memories together.

Throughout each year, residents also attend a number of conferences such as National Network for Oral Health Access (NNOHA), Christian Community Health Fellowship (CCHF), the Global Missions Health Conference (GMHC), CMDA’s Emerging Leaders in Dentistry and the CMDA National Convention. We also attend a conference that prays for and highlights unreached people groups in the 10/40 Window. If you happen to attend any of these, look for us and say hello!

The final distinctive component of the Memphis Dental Residency [+] Program is an invitation to be a part of a house church network. This house church network in Memphis started 20 years ago and has been used in powerful ways and seen impact both locally and across the globe. Nathan Cook, who founded House Church, took what Westerners think of when they think of church and flipped it on its head. Instead of church being a place you go to and invite others to—he said, “What if we are actually the church? Then instead of it being a fixed place that you go to, it is a mobilized body that goes out. Now, as the church, we can go out to our neighborhoods, we can go out to serve in missions.” This is a great chance to “practice” how to be a church in the event residents end up living or serving in a context where a house church would be the only option for church. Learning how to be the church after a lifetime of going to church was one of the most impactful things I wrestled with in my own walk and with my family. The value from a discipleship standpoint of being a part of a house church network cannot be overstated.

CMDA envisions programs like the one at CCHS in Memphis starting in other U.S. locations and across the world. Maybe you feel God speaking to you and asking you to step up and help lead a future residency site—to come alongside young dentists and help train them in dental excellence and discipleship? Or maybe as a daring act of faith you are feeling a call to intentionally relocate your family in order to be in proximity to the poor? Maybe you are a dental student who went into dentistry because you wanted to help the poor but are feeling pressure to meet the expectations of your family?

Jesus spoke in parables about the great banquet in the kingdom of God (Luke 14:15-23; Matthew 22:1-14). When everything was prepared, many were invited, but they all in turn began making excuses. Some went to their fields (Matthew 22:5, Luke 14:18), others to their business (Matthew 22:5), another to try out his new team of oxen (Luke 14:19) and still another man said he just got married and couldn’t come (Luke 14:20). Everyone just had too much going on that they completely missed it.

“For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

The invitation stands for you to be a part of what God is doing through dentistry and discipleship. May God reveal any excuses you are making, like those in the parable. May we be willing for God to transform our hearts to be truly like His. May we love refugees in our city and advocate for people who have no voice in our society. May we truly live with sacrificial love. “If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:3).

Are there things you value in your life more than the call from Jesus for us to love our neighbors? Nothing you have or have achieved was accomplished independent of the grace and mercy of God’s abundant and steadfast love in your life. Therefore, what can you do with the skills and talents God has given you, to give your best back to God? What sacrifices can you or should you be making? The Jesus version of that famous Spider-Man quote says, “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” (Luke 12:48). If you are reading this article, the fact is that to you, much has been given. What is it costing you to follow Jesus?

God is moving in Memphis. He is using the lives of the [+] residents and is pleased by their worship and the sacrifices they have made (Romans 12:1) to live and work in some incredibly hard places. Like Dr. Elise, who built and delivered a complete set of dentures for Miss Debbie, a woman in our neighborhood who had been homeless for several years. Like Dr. Scott who spent a year visiting his neighbor London in prison, praying with him and encouraging him. Like Dr. Catherine who helped some young boys on her street raise money by selling lemonade to buy a basketball hoop for their cul-de-sac. Like Dr. Mark and Kathryn, who fostered Jerrion for two years—or Dr. Chad and Dr. Kelsey, who adopted two babies from this city. This is just a tiny glimpse of the work being done in Memphis.

This is just a tiny glimpse of the work being done in Memphis. God is using ordinary people to bring about change in the world—the kingdom of heaven breaking through. Lives are being touched in profound ways because a handful of dentists and their families accepted the invitation. Don’t be among those who missed out on the great feast!


About the Authors

Dr. Katie Musser is CMDA’s Dental Residency Liaison, graduate alumni and faculty of CMDA’s Dental Residency [+] Program in Memphis, Tennessee. Her husband David has been part of the [+] Family for the last seven years while working in urban education and healthcare consulting project management.

To find out more, visit or email Dr. Katie Musser at

Resident testimonies

“This is life-changing!”, my patient exclaimed when I showed him his two upper front teeth. The black holes which had previously been so prominent were now replaced with white restorations. I smiled under my mask and thanked God for the privilege of helping to reflect in this man’s appearance what He had already done in his heart. After years of drug addiction and dental neglect, God had called my patient out of darkness and planted him firmly into the kingdom. The old had passed away, the new had come (2 Corinthians 5:17)—but there were still scars, most noticeably in his teeth. By removing these scars, I was helping this man and the rest of the world see him how God sees him—clean, whole, a new creation. Unlike God’s saving work in this man’s life, what I did to his teeth may fail. They may stain, form recurrent decay, or chip away and need replacement. Though they are far from perfect, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to create in this man’s smile a hint of what is to come when Christ makes all things new.

-Luke Taylor, DDS, second year Dental [+] resident


“My training at Christ Community Health Services (CCHS) has been formative for my clinical practice and has given me the tools to connect with my patients clinically and spiritually. As a federally qualified health center, CCHS has made it possible to serve those with the greatest access to care needs in Memphis, Tennessee and the Lord has used the [+] Program to bless our patients and me.

One of the most practical ways I have grown is through being sensitive to the Spirit during patient encounters. The [+] Program has built in rhythms of time spent in the Word, listening to God through Scripture, prayer and mission, as well as accountability through a family of believers who love Jesus, dentistry and serving the marginalized communities in Memphis, Tennessee. I was both taught and encouraged to pray for all my patients every day. This has led to opportunities to let the Lord lead my prayers to bless my patients. During this past year the Lord used a broken relationship in my own family that He helped to restore. After the breakthrough, the next week, one of my patients asked for prayer for healing of her relationship with her daughter. I was able to pray boldly and encourage her because I had experienced God’s power in my own life.

The Lord helped to use my own family and mentors to change how I care for my patients. I am able to see my patients as my fellow brothers and sisters who deserve excellent, compassionate care. Just a couple of weeks ago, a patient and her mother presented to our clinic for an emergency exam. Her mother had only one day to take off work and they could only afford to pay for the cost of the appointment, but we were able to extract the decayed tooth, alleviate the pain and treat the source of the patient's pain while dealing with fear and other behavioral challenges. This sweet opportunity was a direct result of the support I have received as a Dental [+] resident.

God has been faithful to change my heart and attitudes towards serving vulnerable patient populations. He has revealed Himself to my patients through prayer and by allowing me to participate in His work of healing through dentistry."

-Joe Benson, DDS, third year Dental [+] resident