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2022-23 WSDA President Dr. John Gibbons

One thing is clear when you meet Dr. John Gibbons, the incoming WSDA president: He lives life to the fullest. But the one thing he’s most passionate about doesn’t involve wild animals, exotic travel or fast engines. It’s something far more complex and unpredictable. It’s dental advocacy.
WSDA President Dr. John Gibbons


  • Resides: Poulsbo
  • Undergraduate Education: Bachelor of science, BYU Utah
  • Post-Graduate Specialized Training: School of Dental Medicine, Washington University, St Louis, Missouri; 2-year residency in Pediatric Dentistry at Oregon Health Science University, Portland
  • Private Practice: Silverdale Pediatric Dentistry
  • WSDA Member Since: 1985
  • Family: Married for 28 years to his wife, Kristin; four sons and one daughter. 
  • Other Service to the Profession: Past President of both Washington State Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and Western Society of Pediatric Dentistry. Former trustee of American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. Currently serves as Public Policy Advocate for Washington State Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. 
  • Interests: Scuba diving, paddle boarding, riding motorcycles, farming oysters, spending time with family and friends, especially at his cabin near Yellowstone

He’s scuba dived with sharks in the Guadalupe Islands of Mexico.

Snowmobiled through Yellowstone National Park. 

Narrowly escaped death on his Harley Davidson.

One thing is clear when you meet Dr. John Gibbons, the incoming WSDA president: He lives life to the fullest. But the one thing he’s most passionate about doesn’t involve wild animals, exotic travel or fast engines. It’s something far more complex and unpredictable.  

It’s dental advocacy.


As a Northwest native, Gibbons knows the good fortune of living in this area of the country.  As the child of a navy vet, he had the opportunity to live elsewhere – but the Northwest called him back.

Long before Dr. John L. Gibbons started on his career path to dentistry, his father, John F. Gibbons, charted the course for his son’s future life in the Northwest. His parents were from Idaho, but World War II launched his father into the navy and travels around the world. His father never graduated from high school but did earn his GED in the navy and became a certified internal auditor for the US government. At one point during the Vietnam War, Gibbons’ father was the auditor in charge for all the navy Pacific installations. The family lived in Hawaii — Gibbons attended school there from third grade through junior high. By then, his dad was thinking of retirement, and could choose anywhere he wanted to go; he picked Bremerton.

Gibbons graduated from South Kitsap High School but was uncertain about his next steps after graduation. He recalls a conversation with his dad that helped refocus his thinking.

“I remember driving home one day, just the two of us and he said, ‘John, you need to make sure you get a college education. I didn’t, but I can’t hire people that don’t have a college education now. Some have masters, one even has a PhD. I think for your future you need to think about a college education.’ At that time, we had the Bremerton shipyard and we had the military – there was always a place where people could go and get a job. At my age, college wasn’t always the place people went. But I took his advice to heart,” he said. 

Gibbons went on to attend Olympic College on a wrestling scholarship, then completed his undergraduate studies at BYU, aided in part by his father’s offer to pay half his tuition.

“It was expensive,” he said, “so I would sometimes work eight months to get my tuition for four months. It took me a little bit longer to get through school.”

After that, he applied to dental school at Washington University in St. Louis, where he graduated and went on to a pediatric dental residency in Portland, Oregon. 

“I could have practiced anywhere, but I chose to come back here. I thought this was a good spot and being by the water and the mountains and all the Northwest has to offer was going to give me the greatest quality of life.”


Pediatric dentistry is a unique specialty, one that requires both the technical expertise and interpersonal skills to manage the patient and their families. Gibbons said he realized in dental school that he felt comfortable working on children. In fact, some of his dental school classmates asked him to care for their children. 

“I just have that comfort when working with children and think they can sense it,” he said. “So in a sense that was a bonus because they felt comfortable.”

After dental school, Gibbons returned to Washington state to see what opportunities were available, not sold entirely on a life of pediatric practice. It took a phone call to a friend in Utah for the pieces to come together, starting with a pediatric residency at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland.

“He said, ‘Did you know there is a pedo opening at the Oregon university? You know you were very good with kids. When I heard about that, I just thought you should know about it.’”

With the news of that opening, he reached out to a local pediatric dentist who was equally enthusiastic about his entering the field and was acquainted with one of the program’s instructors – who introduced him to the program director.

That was on a Friday. A few phone calls later, he had an offer to start the following Monday.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Gibbons began practicing in 1985, establishing his own practice, first in Tacoma, then Bremerton and now, at his current location in Silverdale. His 14,000 square-foot specialty office building, includes an endodontist, a periodontist, an orthodontist, and a general dentist, in addition to his own work as a pediatric dentist.

His work as a dentist has been continuously enhanced by a network of friends and colleagues, largely through volunteer service at the state level to the WSDA and at the national level to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. In fact, it was an invitation from fellow pediatric dentist (and past WSDA president) BJ Larson that brought Gibbons into the advocacy world. 

He remembers attending a conference with Larson in Palm Springs where he spoke on behavioral management techniques.

“After I spoke, all I could think of was, ‘I could sure use a drink and a dip in the pool would not be bad – join the family,’” recalled Gibbons. “And BJ says to me, ‘John there’s another meeting here that I’d like for you to go to. It’s with the president-elect of the American Academy and it’s the western district caucus. I think you might enjoy this, but I just want you to see what you think. It’ll only be an hour.’”

Larson recalls one hour turned into two or three, and still finds humor in having helped launch Gibbons’ work in advocacy.

“It’s true, I got him involved in this,” said Larson jokingly. “I stole him away from his poolside family for a couple of hours in a basement conference room, and it kind of went from there. John gets into the nitty gritty of whatever the issue is before moving on. If he can’t figure it out right away, he continues thinking about it until he discovers a solution. That’s politics – sometimes there’s no easy answer to a problem, so you need to find a creative way around the impasse.” 

As it turned out, the issue being discussed — operating room access for children and specially children with disabilities — was having a huge impact on Gibbons’ practice.

“They were working on trying to create military dental insurance to cover OR access for dental pediatric cases just like they would for an ENT or other specialties. Then they asked, ‘Does anyone here have any experience that might help us when we talk to Congress about it?’”

At the time, Gibbons was still in Tacoma, close to McChord Air Force Base and Madigan Hospital, where military dependents with any kind of complex medical problems were referred for care. However, since the hospital was at capacity with patients from the Gulf War, Gibbons often treated those dependent children.

“They didn’t have the ability to do it and these kids were not being treated the way they should be,” he said. 

“Two years later, the issue of treating children with disabilities in an OR setting swept across the United States and now here in Washington, if a dependent child has a disability, we’re able to treat them in hospital in the most compassionate and proper way,” he said. “And I just felt like organized dentistry CAN make a difference. There’s value in this and I want to make sure I do my part,” he said.

“I had been on the sidelines – this was like 2008 and I had been practicing since 1985. It was time for me to get involved and do what I can.”


After that defining, “ah-ha!” moment in Palm Springs, there was no turning back for Gibbons. He went on to serve in leadership roles at the state and national levels, including Past President of both the Washington State Academy of Pediatric Dentistry and the Western Society of Pediatric Dentistry. He is also a past trustee of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, and currently serves as the Public Policy Advocate for Washington State Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

It is the role of public policy advocate that has informed and invigorated his advocacy work. The program, established in the mid-2000s by the AAPD, created state-level advocacy positions to ensure continuity and build stronger relationships with members of state legislatures and Congress. Gibbons was the first PPA for Washington state, a role he continues to hold today.

As an advocate, Gibbons has successfully worked to see not one but two bills signed into law in Olympia. House Bill 1314 was, ironically, an audit bill — something his auditor father would have appreciated, Gibbons notes. The bill concerned audits of the use of Medicaid dollars to treat children. The audits were, as Gibbons explains it, a barrier for participating dentists because the audit processes could be time consuming and cost practitioners money on small errors.

Gibbons knew from his work with other AAPD public policy advocates around the country that Washington was not alone in needing to solve this issue, and that it could be resolved. Gibbons reached out to fellow dentist and state Rep. Michelle Caldier, who was working on a bill to address the audit concerns. In the end, Caldier championed the bill, which established a fair and predictable Medicaid audit process. It passed both chambers unanimously in 2017. 

“It’s just one of those things – when you find out about how legislative things take place and how things actually get to a positive outcome, you find out that things have to align. You can have the best bill, but if you don’t have the right sponsor or if at that time the mood is different, it does not happen. But the stars aligned.”

A second measure, SB 5976, addressed reimbursement rates for treating children with disabilities. Washington state’s Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) program is a national leader when it comes to providing children ages 0-5 with access to dental care, but treating children with disabilities requires additional training and increases the cost of care. The measure caught the interest of Sen. Christine Rolfes, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Working together with Rolfes and WSDA Director of Government Affairs Emily Lovell, Gibbons successfully advocated for the expansion of the ABCD program, and improved the treatment of children with disabilities; HB 1314 was also unanimously approved by the Legislature.  

“It went right straight through, affecting thousands of children with disabilities who are now getting better access to care and better trained providers,” said Gibbons.

“Advocacy’s probably the thing that is the most important to me,” he added. “It’s such a great reward to be able to feel like we can keep our agenda moving forward to make the way we practice dentistry better so we can provide greater care for our patients. We need [advocates] — if you don’t have them, someone with no experience in our profession is making decisions about how you’re supposed to practice dentistry. That’s just not appropriate.” 


Next to advocacy, one of Gibbons’ other passions is people – mentoring, sponsoring and creating opportunities for his peers and colleagues to contribute and lead the dental profession.

“You want them to have that opportunity, and that opportunity comes at different times in people’s lives,” he said. It’s not always the same – could be when they’re younger, could be when they’re older. But whenever it is, you want to be sure the door is open.”

Two of those dentists, Dr. Lisa Block, of Harbor Kids’ Teeth in Gig Harbor, and Dr. Harlyn Susarla, a pediatric dentist at the Seattle Children’s Odessa Brown Community Clinic and Ballard Pediatric Dentistry, have benefited directly from Gibbon’s mentorship.

Block and Gibbons attended dental school together at Washington University in St. Louis and he was instrumental in helping her establish a practice in the Northwest.

“He was always just -- even then — just a very generous person,” said Block.  “I think you have the best of both worlds in John: He just has this great depth of knowledge and is a kind person with a huge heart.”

Susarla met Gibbons when she was a resident at the University of Maryland and looking to move to the Northwest. They first met at the 2016 Pediatric Oral Health Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C.

“When I knew I was moving to Washington state, a faculty member connected me with John. Without a second thought, he took me under his wing. He got me involved with speaking to legislators and really helped me develop my public speaking skills,” said Susarla. “He continued to take an active interest in my professional development when I moved to the Pacific Northwest, which he didn’t have to do. I could have simply been one of his group members in DC and have never interacted with or heard from him again. However, he made it a point to reach out and continue to offer his support,” she added.

“I think I owe a lot to him in terms of who I am now, and who I am becoming with regard to my own career. I will forever be grateful to him for his continued mentorship. Everyone should be so lucky to have someone in their life like John,” she said.

“Those whose lives he touches – he just makes them better. He does whatever he can to help others, whether it is a colleague, a student, a resident, a patient. He’s extremely generous, especially with his time. Our profession is undoubtedly better because of John. “


As WSDA president, Gibbons understands he, like those who preceded him as president, bring unique strengths and passions to the role.

“There have been a lot of great leaders that have handled issues that came up and we grow each time,” he said. “We have as good a Executive Director and staff with Bracken, Kainoa and Emily as anywhere in the United States. I would put them up against anybody. They’re just so good. And we have a great board, people with diverse backgrounds that give us the ability to make good decisions based on all kinds of points of view.  My part as president is more of a moderator.”

“As president I don’t see us leading in a certain direction as I do giving the board the opportunity to do what’s best for dentistry, in whatever that may be,” he added.

Dr. Bri Butler, a pediatric dentist and dental director for Jamestown Family Dental Clinic in Sequim, has collaborated with Gibbons through various mentoring projects and was thrilled to learn he would soon be WSDA president.

“There are so many people he’s encouraged to stay involved and find our passions in organized dentistry,” said Butler. “The one thing about John — he always flies below the radar and behind the scenes, but making so much happen at the same time,” she said.

“My hope for him as president: That he can step into the light and show how much he’s done for the patients and the dental community.” 

After BJ Larson, Gibbons will be the second pediatric dentist to serve as WSDA president in recent association history. Larson says the challenge of any volunteer leadership is to navigate the year without having a major event occupy your focus. But even if something does arise, he knows Gibbons is up for the challenge.

“John always does his very best, and his best is pretty stellar,” said Larson.

“John has the ability to look at things in great depth and figure out a way to get around almost anything that’s adverse. I think we’ve got the right guy for the job.”


Reflecting on the year ahead, Gibbons lands on one particular moment in 2006.  

It looked like a kite, he recalls.

Sailing through the air, in the middle of a Moscow, Idaho freeway, his brain tried to process the object hurtling toward him and his Harley Davidson Road King Custom motorcycle.

Except the kite was really an unsecured mattress that had taken flight from a trailer barreling down the freeway as he and a group of friends were traveling home from a road trip over Lolo Pass.

By a stroke of pure luck, the mattress hit his front bumper and bounced over his head, cutting his left hand and leaving him shaken but otherwise uninjured. No one else in his party was hurt.

That moment is not lost on him, 16 years later.

“Life – you never know,” said Gibbons, smiling. “Every moment is precious and every moment you should live it to the fullest. And that’s the way I do my life.”

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of WSDA News.