man wearing a health care professional coat leans against a window and smiles
After graduation from the Dental College of Georgia, Guillermo Castro will soon begin his pediatric residency with NYU Langone Dental Medicine in Hawaii. [Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

The power of a smile: Dental College of Georgia graduate inspired to serve community

Guillermo Castro has a picture he keeps close to remind him of why he has worked so hard to graduate from the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University and become a dentist, no matter the hurdles that have come his way. And there have been plenty of hurdles.

young boy  wearing a baseball uniform poses with a bat for a photo

It’s frayed at the edges and features more than a few scratches and small tears, but it’s still easy to make out a young Castro in a T-ball uniform smiling at the camera.

The picture and the boy in it share a noticeable distinction: the picture is missing the lower right-hand corner, and in the photo, Castro is missing the lower corner of one of his front teeth.

“You’re already self-conscious as a kid, so add in I had that chipped front tooth, it was rough. I still have that picture of me at T-ball with this little chipped front tooth,” Castro said. “I knew how important my smile was, and I was always self-conscious about it.”

Growing up in a large family

Castro’s father was in the United States Army, which meant the family moved around the state of Georgia and sometimes beyond. Castro and his twin brother, William, were born in New York. After his parents divorced, Castro’s mother would often work two or more jobs to support her children. Without a college degree, she would work whatever jobs came her way, including as a secretary and in security.

Watching both of his parents, who are Puerto Rican, work to support their children instilled the drive to be able to support his family, and he knew it would require a college education.

“My dad went to the military and my mom worked two, sometimes three jobs, and they made it possible for my brothers and sisters and me,” Castro said. “Everything they all did before me I learned from, and so I wanted to stay out of trouble, and I knew education, especially advanced education, was really what I wanted to do so I would be able to take care of my family.”

man smiling outside with trees in the background
Guillermo Castro has had a lifelong interest in dentistry and is proud to be graduating from the Dental College of Georgia. [Michael Holahan/Augusta University]

Growing up, Castro admits his family didn’t always have the means for him and his six siblings to get the health care they needed. He vividly remembers standing in long lines at free clinics hoping to be seen.

“We didn’t have consistent dental care, so I ended up going to free dental days and events like Give Kids a Smile,” Castro recalled. “I remember standing in line one time in particular waiting from five in the morning until five in the afternoon just to try to get the filling for that chipped tooth done. I’m pretty sure I was one of the last ones to get work done that day, and it was a big filling, too.”

Despite having to wait all day with the possibility of not being seen, Castro remembers having a positive experience with the dentist who ultimately gave him his smile back.

“I actually ended up having a good experience with Dr. Daisy, and I just knew from then on, even at that young age, I knew I wanted to do something like that and help kids with their smiles.”

Now 35, Castro is on the cusp of beginning his pediatric residency with NYU Langone Dental Medicine in Hawaii, after having to put his hopes of becoming a dentist on the shelf due to financial reasons.

large group of students in scrubs pose for a photo in a large hallway
Struggles after undergrad

Knowing he would need an advanced education to make his dreams of becoming a dentist a reality, Castro decided to take a slightly different path. While others he knew were working toward degrees in biology or chemistry, Castro went for a degree in dental hygiene to help make him a more well-rounded dentist.

He just didn’t know how valuable it would be so soon.

“When I was going through undergrad, I knew dentistry was my route,” he said. “First, I didn’t want a bachelor’s degree in biology or chemistry, so I actually looked at colleges and universities that were offering bachelor-level dental hygiene degrees so I could work and gain experience right away.”

Near the end of his undergraduate studies, Castro realized the money was running out, and he had maxed out his college loans.

“I ran out of money. I maxed out Hope, maxed out all my student loans, and at that point I needed to help my family, so I ended up stopping that pursuit to go to work,” Castro said.

Castro did what he felt he had to do, so as not to burden his family, but he didn’t come away with nothing for his efforts. He graduated from Armstrong State University, now under the Georgia Southern banner, with his Bachelor of Science in Dental Hygiene in 2011 and started a master’s program before making the decision to hit pause.

Even though he had to put his dreams on hold for several years, he was able to do something nobody in his family had done before: become a college graduate. Castro’s twin brother joined and retired from the U.S. Navy, and an older brother followed their father into the Army.

Finally getting his chance

“I kind of talked myself out of going to school for another year for postbaccalaureate classes, and then I talked myself out of it for five years or so, saying, ‘You know what, this is too much of a sacrifice. I want to start a family. I want to do that. I want to buy a house,’” he said. “But I just knew there was something in the back of my mind saying, ‘You need to do it, and this is the time to do it.’”

Castro decided it was time to get back on track in 2017. He went for his year of postbaccalaureate classes and finally applied for dental school in 2018 but was hit with another roadblock when he was denied on his first attempt.

“I started a master’s degree program around that same time, and I needed to finish that prior to getting in, so I actually didn’t get in on my first attempt,” he said. “But I reapplied the next year and got in, so it’s been a long journey.”

four dentists wearing masks in an exam room

After earning his way into dental school, Castro thought he had conquered just about everything life could throw his way. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the middle of his first year.

Castro and his classmates were confronted with not being able to get the traditional training they had hoped for, but in a way, it was a blessing in disguise. Instead of being able to use certain, more advanced equipment, they were having to do a lot of things by hand — the old, harder way. It gave his class an appreciation for the technology they have access to today.

“It felt like it hit us twice as hard because we were just transitioning into clinic, and COVID stopped that,” he said. “We weren’t able to do a lot of procedures because they were aerosol-producing procedures. We weren’t able to do a lot of things outside of basic exams, X-rays and getting patients prepped. On top of that, we had to do what is called hand-scaling for all of our patients, doing everything manually instead of using far more advanced equipment because it was all aerosol-producing.”

Even after overcoming so much, Castro admits there have been times where he still struggles, but with the end in sight and a new chapter ready to begin, his smile is bigger and brighter than ever, and he is ready to take on the challenges.

large group of students pose and smile for a photo outside
Giving back

Part of the residency experience at the Dental College of Georgia is centered around community service and engagement at outreach events. Being able to give back has been a big positive to Castro, who sees himself in many of the kids he has had the opportunity to treat. And it’s something he hopes to continue.

“I’ve been fortunate to have done two mission trips, including last summer in June for a week. We went to Honduras, and, as a group, I think we did over 200,000 dental procedures, and that included extractions, fillings, basic cleanings and deep cleanings, X-rays — everything,” said Castro.

“It was a lot, especially for such a short week. We did some procedures outside, and we taught local dentists how to do everything properly. Education was a big part of this. I was a dental hygiene educator before I came to dental school, as well, and that was part of it. People have better results when they understand and know what they have going on.”

On top of those experiences abroad, he has also participated in DCG’s annual Give a Kid a Smile Day, among other events here in Augusta.

READ MORE: Dental College of Georgia hosts Give Kids a Smile Day

a male dentist uses a tooth brush on a stuffed animal while young children look on

“I’ve been volunteering with Give Kids a Smile since I’ve been a dental hygienist in 2011. The YMCA is another big one that I have helped give presentations, and the students love for health care professionals to come in and give these types of presentations at health fairs,” he said. “A lot of them play sports, of course, so teaching them the importance of a mouth guard and mouthpiece is crucial, as is hygiene in kids who are hitting puberty and don’t want to brush right. Sometimes they just need someone else other than their mom and dad to tell them what’s going on because they respect that outside voice.”

What’s next?

While his time at DCG might be over, it’s not the end of his education and path to becoming a dentist. Castro moves to Hawaii on June 20 in preparation for his pediatric residency with NYU Langone Dental Medicine.

“I love my route. I wouldn’t take it away. Of course I wish I’d done it sooner, but doing hygiene prior to dental school helped me tremendously in dental school,” Castro said. “I excelled, and I’m actually going to get a senior award on May 10, so I guess I’ve done fairly well.”

Like with many things in his life, the program he will be joining wasn’t his first choice, but it was a close second. Castro is a family man and would have preferred to stay in Georgia to be closer to his family, but he recognizes that residency programs are tough to get into with limited spots. He also feels a deep connection to the people of Hawaii as family there is important, just as it is in the Puerto Rican culture.

“I’m a Georgia boy through and through, so I wanted to be in Atlanta at the Children’s Hospital, but it’s a brand-new program and there are only two spots, so it’s really competitive,” he said. “But I really liked the community-based clinics and philosophy of treatment in Hawaii, so one reason I placed them second beyond any other school is that they actually are in the heart in the community. They want to help people who have hard times getting into the dental clinic.”

Throughout his journey, Castro said he will always remember that little boy in Georgia with a chipped tooth, waiting to see a dentist at a free clinic and hoping they can fix his smile.

“I want to get those experiences and make an impact in the community, just like Dr. Daisy did for me,” he said.

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Written by
Milledge Austin

Milledge Austin is a senior communications and marketing strategist for Communications and Marketing at Augusta University. Contact him to schedule an interview on this topic or with one of our experts at

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man with glasses standing in front of blue background Written by Milledge Austin

Jagwire is your source for news and stories from Augusta University. Daily updates highlight the many ways students, faculty, staff, researchers and clinicians "bring their A games" in classrooms and clinics on four campuses in Augusta and locations across the state of Georgia.

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