Sandra Browning, DMD, feels most at peace in two places: when connecting with her dental patients and while taking care of her impressive collection of plants. “I believe in making the world a better place and leaving people and things better than I found them,” she says. “I do that by helping people with their teeth and with my hands in the dirt.”
While dentistry and plants may not seem like they have a lot in common, they are both Browning’s top passions. “Both teeth and plants, if you give them love and take care of them properly, they will reward you with ten times the love back,” she says. As a mom, it’s a passion she’s passed down to her 5-year-old son, who has six plants of his own.
An Arizona native, Browning was born in Yuma where her family were cotton farmers and then moved to Flagstaff at age 3, where spending time in the forest was a regular occurrence. She began caring for her first plant at 14.
“It’s a pothos plant, so basically your grandma’s house plant. They are very forgiving plants,” Browning says. “I adopted it from the living room and decided it would live in my bedroom. The rest is history.” Impressively, 26 years later, she still has the original plant and its offspring that have grown from its cuttings. With such staying power, the plant’s name is Jim.
“Jim has seen me through dental school, motherhood, divorce, all of the things,” she explains.
“Spending a big portion of my childhood in Flagstaff, nature has always been impressive to me, and an escape,” she continues. “I’ve always wanted to be close to nature and, through the plants in my home, I bring nature indoors.”
Recently, Browning’s 9-year-old niece counted her plant collection at 86, although she estimates she has between 100-120 plants when everything is accounted for. Her collection features everything from basic house plants you can get in the garden section of any store to rare African succulents. For those who may think she has a secret green thumb, she notes that it’s all about trial and error and learning as you go.
“I used to really overwater my plants,” she says. “But now, in this day and age of information at your fingertips, I look up information for each plant and tailor its care to what it needs.”
Browning shares that trial and error—mixed with hard work and gratitude—are the themes for her life and career as well. Browning practices dentistry at Gilbert Dental Center, where she specializes in cosmetic and general dentistry. She takes special care to connect with her patients who may be scared or nervous to there because she knows what it’s like to struggle with her own dental issues.
“I originally became a dental assistant to get a discount on dental work for my own bad teeth; it’s not that I didn’t take care of them, people don’t realize that genetics play a big role, too,” she explains. “As I moved in my career, I went into dental hygiene and then became a dentist in my early 30s, so I didn’t take the traditional career track often expected of dentists. I’m grateful for every experience and struggle though because it helps me to connect with my patients on a personal level.”
“My life has been anything but perfect, and many times when people sit in that dentistry chair they may be terrified to be there,” Browning continues. “I am here to reassure them that I will provide a safe place for them to be, and everything will be okay.”
Looking toward the future, Browning plans to open her own practice next year and is moving into a new local home soon. Of course, in both places, she will have a variety of plants and will give them space to “grow their hearts out.”