The Fascinating Life of a Veteran, Dentist and Mother of Triplets
By Mariah Kline
Dr. Krysta Manning is not your average veteran, average dentist or average mom. She has served as a captain in the Air Force, recently opened a specialized dental clinic in Anchorage and is raising triplets with her husband Ryan. The Russellville, Kentucky native has gone above and beyond for her country, her patients and her children, and to say she is one-of-a-kind doesn’t begin to cover it.
Manning decided to join the Air Force after she started dental school at UofL. One day upon receiving her first student loan statement with interest already adding up, she decided she didn’t want to spend her entire career trying to pay off such an insurmountable debt. She visited the recruiting office that very day and started the process of joining the Air Force.
Once she was accepted into their health professions scholarship program, she was able to finish dental school with minimal obligations or worries. Upon graduating in 2010, she was promoted to captain and did a one-year fellowship here in Louisville before moving on to serve at the Peterson Air Force Base and then the Air Force Academy.
While joining the armed forces meant a massive life change for Manning, she says her time in the service taught her discipline, integrity and responsibility. It also allowed her to earn over 300 hours of continuing education and hone in on her craft. As a captain, she oversaw the review of dental records, ensured active duty members of the Air Force were not held back from deploying due to dental problems and trained other members of her team to communicate and verify treatment to limit errors.
During this time, she also received extensive training in forensic dentistry, which meant her services were needed to cross-reference dental records for body identification.
“They impressed upon us the great responsibility that this role carried,” she says. “Proper identification of fallen victims is critical for families to have an opportunity for closure and confirmation that allows them to carry on with the grieving process.”
Besides paying for her education and giving her a great deal of working experience, the Air Force also made Manning eligible for the GI Bill. After the birth of her triplets, she separated from the Air Force in 2014 to focus on raising her children and explore other career options. She took part in the Air Force’s Boots to Business program, which helped her transition back to civilian life and planted the idea to open her own practice.
“I always carry a journal with me so I started collecting ideas for things I wanted to do differently with my own business,” she explains. “When people around me would say something about the dentist, I would write it down and take inspiration from it.”
While raising toddlers, she managed to earn an Entrepreneurship MBA from UofL and graduated in 2016. Over the last year, Manning has built her new clinic, Solstice Dental & Aesthetics. She started seeing friends and family members at her office on November 1 and will begin seeing new patients on November 15. Patients can schedule appointments online, and since transparency is of the utmost importance to her, they can also see all of her prices online.
“I want people to know what they’re getting,” she says. “Going to the dentist is hard; it’s a lot of money and time, and it can sometimes mean a lot of pain. Insurance confuses a lot of people so I’m going to set up a dental savings plan in my office. I’m going to have all of my prices out there and the pay structure is going to be simple because I just want to make it as easy and as transparent as I can.”
Many dentists are focused on making as much money as possible once they own their own practice since they have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off. Thanks to the Air Force, Manning can focus solely on doing her absolute best for her patients and curating her practice to be exactly how she wants it. She’s also taking extra steps to care for patients with certain needs. Every six weeks at Solstice, she plans to have a scheduled morning where she exclusively practices desensitized dentistry. This practice is used to treat adults and children with developmental disabilities who have a particularly challenging time visiting the dentist.
Manning learned about desensitized dentistry during a fellowship at Lee’s Specialty Clinic, and since her son Lincoln has autism, she’s well-versed in the complex needs and dispositions of these patients.
“You can’t expect a child with autism to walk into the dental clinic and sit in a chair like a child who doesn’t have sensory issues,” she explains. “That’s just unreasonable. If a child shouts or gets upset…everybody here gets it and understands.”
In addition to serving this specialized group of patients, she is also prioritizing social responsibility and environmental sustainability. From the equipment she’s using on patients to the construction materials used to build the office, Manning has truly thought of everything. She installed lead-certified cabinetry paint and LED lights throughout the clinic. The office is completely BPA-free as far as fillings and sealants go, and she even has a digital tool to take 3D images of your mouth with a wand rather than using molds to make impressions of your teeth.
“We’re doing a lot of things differently from an eco perspective,” she says. “People are more cognizant than ever of what they’re eating and what they’re doing,” she says. “It’s not important to everybody but it’s important to me. Everybody’s different, and I’m never going to push my thoughts on anybody else, but this is what works for me.”
When it comes to conservation, she walks the walk in her personal life as well. Manning is a vegan who only owns 35 items of clothing for each season and used nothing but cloth diapers for her triplets.
Manning named her practice Solstice Dental & Aesthetics as a nod to her children, who were born on the summer solstice. Aesthetics are incorporated into the practice because she also sells skin care products and offers Botox injections, which can be used to treat jaw stiffness and teeth clenching.
In addition to her professional accomplishments, Manning could also brag (though she never would) about her ability to write. She ran a successful blog, The Thoughtful Mom, when her children were babies. This writing was not only cathartic for her, it also helped a number of readers who were going through similar circumstances. She wrote extensively about her struggles with infertility and finding her place as someone who had recently left the military and was raising multiples.
While Manning is ecstatic to be opening the dental practice of her dreams, the road to this success was far from easy. In addition to the hard work required to finish her degrees and serve in the armed forces, her personal life has required a great amount of physical and emotional strength. In 2013, her two daughters and son were born almost 10 weeks premature, and she nearly died while giving birth to them.
“They had to replace more than half the blood in my body,” she reveals. “My kids were unconscious for about a day, and something like that changes your perspective on everything. I had to go back to work at six weeks because I was in the military and when I went back to work my son was still in the NICU.”
Once her children were home, Manning still had to continue working for the first year of their lives and juggle dentistry with new motherhood. Even with a “wildly supportive” husband like Ryan, she says it was more challenging than she ever could have imagined.
“We didn’t sleep much and we cried a lot,” she laughs. “Mostly it was just me and Ryan to take care of them. It’s not magic; it’s absolutely growth. You can’t just pop up and say, ‘I’m a mom of triplets and I can do all of these things.’”
Thankfully, the couple survived new parenthood and their now four-year-old children are all happy and healthy. Though balancing work while caring for her children is taxing, Manning still finds time to give back to the community when she can. She and her Solstice staff have begun volunteering with Smile Kentucky, which provides free dental screenings and treatment for elementary school children whose parents cannot afford care. As the practice grows, they plan to further their philanthropic impact as much as they can.
Manning’s story and the life she leads is beyond interesting, but perhaps what is most fascinating about her is how she carries herself through it all. She’s intelligent and driven but still approachable and puts everyone she encounters at ease. She’s confident in herself and her mission but still humble and grateful for the opportunities she’s had. She is an honorable veteran, an ambitious professional, a committed conservationist and an exceptional mother. She is truly one-of-a-kind. VT