Dr. Ada S. Cooper is a successful Park Avenue dentist and ADA National Spokesperson and Consumer Advisor, who frequently appears on TV, on radio, and in print to discuss dental topics that are important to consumers. But unlike other dentists at the peak of their careers, hers has not been a straight trajectory from college to dental school to practice and prominence. Prior to graduating from NYUCD, Dr. Cooper graduated from Harvard Law School and spent 13 years as a lawyer, including six as a partner at Jenner & Block, a prestigious Chicago law firm specializing in litigation.
I enjoyed being a litigator, says Dr. Cooper, especially because Jenner & Block is a wonderful firm that is deeply committed to pro bono work, which was a high priority for me. The firm offers the highest-caliber legal representation and advice, and is dedicated to contributing to the legal profession, and to advancing a long tradition of public and community service. I was given wonderful career challenges and opportunities. But for years I had been working in excess of 14 hours a day on a variety of cases, some of which were deeply rewarding, while others were not. After litigating for 13 years, I came to realize that I didn’t want to do it for another 30 years.
At that point in my life I wasn’t married; I didn’t have children; and therefore I was able to invest heavily in my own happiness, both short-term and long-term, personally and professionally. So while I was still practicing law, I started thinking about what I really wanted in my life, going forward.
Dr. Cooper considered becoming an in-house lawyer for one of her many corporate clients, or doing pro bono work at one of many public interest advocacy organizations, but she realized that any of those things would in effect require starting all over, building new relationships in another type of practice.
For many years and at great personal sacrifice, I had worked very hard and successfully to build strong relationships with the clients and partners at Jenner & Block, says Dr. Cooper. I had attained a high level of recognition at the firm for my legal and trial abilities. I realized that I was only willing to give all of that up for something that I really wanted. That’s when I decided that I wanted to be in a field that was more consistently gratifying, productive, and satisfying to me on a personal basis.
My father was a dentist, my grandfather was a dentist; I have uncles who are dentists, cousins who are dentists. Dentistry has always been a part of my life. And as I started to think about what I wanted my life, my lifestyle, and my career to be, I found myself constantly reflecting upon the career that I had watched my father happily pursue as I was growing up. I realized, ’I don’t have to be a lawyer for the rest of my life.
Before heading to law school, Dr. Cooper, a native New Yorker, had considered a career as a healthcare provider. But in her senior year at Stuyvesant High School, when she was 17 and just months away from enrolling at Amherst College, her mother suddenly passed away and she turned her attention away from the sciences. Later, when she decided to pursue a career in dentistry, she had to go back to college and take the additional courses she needed for admission to dental school -- a year each of math, biology, inorganic chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics.
While I was still practicing law, I started taking evening courses at Loyola University in Chicago. I thought that if at any point I had second thoughts, I still had a great career at Jenner to fall back on. But I found that I loved it, absolutely loved it, and knew I had rediscovered the place where I should have been all along.
The next year, Dr. Cooper moved home to New York and began taking evening courses at NYU and Hunter College. I was tremendously focused and disciplined, she explains, and when I realized that this was what I really wanted, I resigned from the partnership at Jenner & Block, worked part-time in my father’s dental practice, and applied to dental school at NYU. NYU very generously gave me a full merit scholarship and for that, among many other things, I am indebted to NYU to this day. After I graduated from NYU, I practiced with my father for many years and when he retired, I took over his practice.
An Invitation to Become an ADA Spokesperson
Not long after graduating, Dr. Cooper received a call from former Dean Michael C. Alfano asking her to participate in a student-recruitment video. He was so impressed with the result that he sent the video to the ADA in response to a request that he recommend an alumnus who had the potential to become an ADA spokesperson.
One day, as she was between patients, Dr. Cooper got a call from the ADA asking if she might be interested in the position. After a series of auditions in various contexts, she was invited to become an official ADA spokesperson.
This is a phenomenal honor, says Dr. Cooper. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. In my legal career, I represented so many people, with many gratifying results, but as an ADA spokesperson, I have a platform that enables me to reach thousands and thousands of people around the world — people who don’t actually come into my office, who might not have access to dental care, but who have important questions and concerns, and who need to know where to turn for answers and care. What an incredible opportunity to be able to help people around the world understand the importance of their oral health and how to get the care they need!
As the ADA’s consumer advisor, Dr. Cooper is called on to address a variety of issues. It really depends on what’s making news, she says. Topics range from the latest developments in aesthetic dentistry, to access to dental care, to the effects of oral health on systemic health, to body piercing, to the sugar content of beverages that children drink, to injuries sustained during the course of dental treatment. The public wants information and peace of mind when it comes to their oral health, and I’m privileged to be able to provide it.
Dr. Cooper also hopes to teach in a more intimate setting. I left NYU with a firm commitment to come back to teach, she says. I would love to teach, and there’s no question that I would do so at NYU. My experience long ago as a dental student was so wonderful, and the memories of teachers who helped me are so lasting, that I well up with gratitude remembering the things that faculty members taught me. They have made such a difference in the way I practice, and I want to do the same for future dentists.