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Student Profile: Denise Curado (DDS 2024) relies on family support and self-discipline in completing her return to the profession of dentistry11 min read

April 12, 2024

Student Profile: Denise Curado (DDS 2024) relies on family support and self-discipline in completing her return to the profession of dentistry11 min read

This profile is one in an ongoing series highlighting School of Dentistry alumni, donors and students.


When Denise Curado crosses the stage at Hill Auditorium next month, her graduation from the University of Michigan School of Dentistry will bring her full circle back to the practice of dentistry that she started in Brazil more than 20 years ago.

Her story is one of a non-traditional student who has relied on determination, work ethic and a deep well of support, insight and strength from her parents, husband and daughter when an assortment of family considerations intervened on her initial start as a dentist.

Curado’s journey is emblematic of the diversity of stories that fill the dental school’s graduating DDS class each year.

Denise Curado

She and her siblings were born in the United States to Brazilian parents when their father was in the U.S. working for NASA. A job opportunity resulted in her father returning to Brazil with his family. Growing up there, Denise excelled in school and decided on a career in dentistry. She said she knew early on from watching physicians and dentists in her extended family that she wanted to work in a medical field. Yet she also understood she couldn’t handle being a physician; she couldn’t bear telling a loved one that a spouse or a family member could not be saved.

Also contributing to her career decision was gratitude for her orthodontist and dentist who improved her childhood smile. “I was bullied by other kids because of how my teeth looked. My orthodontist and dentist changed my life,” she said. “And I thought, maybe this will be a good thing for me. I can make a positive impact on peoples’ lives and in how I can make them more confident or feel better if they are in pain.”

In Brazil, students go directly from high school to dental school, so by the time she was in her early 20s Curado was a practicing dentist in Goiania, not far from Brasilia, the capital. She practiced there for nearly five years. It was a successful practice and by then she had a daughter, her husband had a good job, and life was good.

But she felt a certain restlessness in Brazil, in part because her siblings had decided to return to the U.S. and were living in Florida. “I had this feeling that I love Brazil, but I never felt it was home to me,” Curado said. “I felt that I was missing something.” So she decided that she, too, would move to Florida with the intention of continuing her dentistry career there, despite being well-established in Goiania.

“It didn’t make that much sense to move,” she says. “But I had this little voice in me that I wanted more, and I wanted to be back home. And I decided to get back sooner rather than later, while I was younger and my daughter was younger, too, so she would be able to go to elementary and middle school in the United States.”

Denise Curado exams a patient’s radiograph at the start of an appointment in a dental school clinic.

The family moved to Tampa, Florida, knowing that dentists with international dental degrees require additional education and licensing before they can practice in this country. Curado’s family responsibilities meant the additional dental school training would have to wait. Instead, she used her knowledge and experience in dentistry to find positions as a dental assistant and a dental hygienist for 13 years. While the move was ostensibly a step back professionally, she now views it as highly positive. It was a relationship-building period that helped Curado understand the powerful teamwork that goes into a successful American dental practice.

“It was a very humbling experience,” she said of her time of assisting dentists rather than being the dentist she had trained to be in Brazil. “You understand how in dentistry you need other people to succeed. When you’re on the other side, you understand how you rely on a lot of people to do a lot of things for you. In Brazil, it’s a one-person show. The dentist does everything.” Curado says she used the experience to build strong ties with many patients and to deepen her healthcare-related communication skills.

During that period, her daughter grew up, went to college and was accepted into medical school. That allowed Curado to finally re-focus on earning her U.S. dental license by taking her board exams and meeting other criteria in order to apply for admission to a U.S. dental school. She applied to several dental schools and found that the University of Michigan offered many aspects that spoke to her. “I want to be part of something big,” she said. “I want to be around people that are smarter than me and learn from people who know a lot. It was that fascination and to know so many people are doing so much research.”

She was admitted to the dental school’s Internationally Trained Dentist Program (ITDP), beginning in early 2022. International students attend the dental school full time for 28 months, starting with a specialized ITDP curriculum for a few months, then join an existing class of dental students for its final two years. In Curado’s case, she and the other 20 international students in her cohort joined the 109 students in the DDS Class of 2024.

Adjunct faculty member Dr. Frederic Slete, one of Denise Curado’s mentors during her time at the dental school, checks the progress of her treatment of a patient.

The ITDP program quickly proved challenging and energizing. In addition to returning to the busy didactic and clinical workload of an academic graduate program, dentistry is constantly evolving so there were new methods of digital technology and 3D printing to learn for patient treatment. “The first five months I was pretty overwhelmed because I hadn’t been in school for so many years,” Curado says. “And so I had to figure out how to be smart with my time.”

And also use her family resources – husband Humberto and daughter Olivia. “We’re very, very close,” she says, recalling how Humberto would fix breakfast for her and pack a lunch as she went off to her classes or the clinic. On the first day of school, Curado was surprised by all the new technology, including iPads, that were being used for various class functions. She described herself as stressed out when calling her daughter to vent.  “You can do it, Mom,” Olivia assured her.

Another notable change today is that patients are more well-versed in gathering additional reference points about their health through things as simple as Google searches. That is distinctly different than the unquestioning doctor-patient relationship Curado had experienced in Brazil. But she welcomed the change. “Because it’s not about me, it’s about them,’ she says of patients. “I just have to educate them as to what is the best option for them, because they have treatment choices and must decide what’s most suitable. Nowadays, you see more hesitation with people in believing what the dentist knows. The communication is different than when I graduated the first time.”

Curado is grateful to numerous U-M faculty who’ve been excellent mentors, instructive clinicians and strong supporters during the program. In particular, she mentions faculty member Dr. Phil Richards and adjunct faculty members Drs. Frederic Slete, Gregory Czarnecki and Joao Najar. They’ve inspired her to want to teach as well, both overseeing dental students’ development and educating doctors in other specialties about the central role the mouth plays in a person’s overall health.

As she prepares for the next step in her dental odyssey, Curado is quick to credit her father, who passed away recently; along with her strong, wise mother, who died when Denise was 13; as well as her husband and daughter. Past and present, they all have been inspirational.

Curado said her father was a steady guide after her mother died. The loss of her mother was challenging, as was becoming pregnant when she was 17. “My dad pushed me to my limits, saying, ‘Don’t accept no for an answer and you keep pushing it.’ I had a lot of obstacles, and I had to learn to jump through all those hoops and not feel sorry for myself because I had a child and had lost my mom. I think my parents engraved that in me. My mom was very wise and a very kind soul. And so I carry her with me and I teach those things to my daughter as well …To be driven, to make sure that people don’t push you around and just keep going. And that life is hard. Don’t make excuses for anything.”

In a teaching moment for the benefit of second-year dental student Evans Brown, Denise Curado uses her hands to offer technique advice for a procedure he was performing as he assisted her during a patient appointment.

Curado also draws inspiration from a fitting choice given her time on the U-M campus – former U-M football player Tom Brady, who went on to a stellar career as one of the best players in the history of the National Football League. Curado, who is an excellent lifelong athlete (running, yoga, outrigger canoe races in Hawaii, to name a few activities), says she identifies and empathizes with the focus and sacrifice top athletes must exhibit. She is such a fan of Brady and his philosophy of success that she keeps a handwritten note with some of his truisms in her backpack and can quickly call up his YouTube videos on her phone.

“You can’t control the outcome all the time,” Curado quotes Brady as saying. “Sometimes it should go the other peoples’ way. It should not always go your way. You get motivated by the losses; you stay motivated through the winning. What you can control is your process. You can control those intangibles. You can control your work ethic, the consistent discipline, your attitude, your culture, how much you care. All those things are in you. They just need to be drawn out of you.”

It’s a philosophy that resonates with Curado. “I love athletes, for how much dedication you must have, for how much you have to be involved and how much you must love what you do,” she said. “They give up so much in life to reach that point. And I think for us, as professionals, we do pretty much the same thing.”

With graduation approaching next month, Curado and her husband, who works for Citibank, are finalizing plans for their next step, a move to Buffalo, New York, where Curado will advance her skills in dentistry even further. Curado found out in the middle of March that she had passed her dental boards, clearing the way to open a new chapter in her singular life story.

“Just knowing how hard I worked to be here, and finally be able to be on the other side, and be a dentist again, has been nothing but a joy,” she says. “You hear the news, and it just couldn’t be better.”


The University of Michigan School of Dentistry is one of the nation’s leading dental schools engaged in oral healthcare education, research, patient care and community service.  General dental care clinics and specialty clinics providing advanced treatment enable the school to offer dental services and programs to patients throughout Michigan.  Classroom and clinic instruction prepare future dentists, dental specialists and dental hygienists for practice in private offices, hospitals, academia and public agencies.  Research seeks to discover and apply new knowledge that can help patients worldwide.  For more information about the School of Dentistry, visit us on the Web at:  Contact: Marketing and Communications Office at, or (734) 615-1971.