Twisp colleague encouraged her career path
Unlike many people, Dr. Katarina Behla, the new dentist at Sawtooth Dental in Twisp, never dreaded going to the dentist.
Raised in Snohomish, Behla says she always had a good experience at the dentist and orthodontist. What’s more, in those visits she began to see dentistry as something more than just improved oral health — she saw a career.
“I always knew it was something for me,” Behla says of her fascination with dentistry. “Although I initially started out by pursuing dental hygiene, I switched tracks to dentistry because I wanted to do more.”
Behla credits Dr. Robert Rosenthal (who became Dr. John O’Keefe’s partner at Sawtooth Dental in 2022), with making the leap to dentistry. “I went to undergrad with Dr. Rosenthal, when I was looking at dental hygiene as a career,” Behla says. “The thought of me being a dentist was a scary vision, but he convinced me that I could do it. I think being a woman was a big part of my reluctance at first — I just hadn’t seen too many female dentists at that point.”
“It was a leap of faith,” Behla says, but she enrolled at the University of Washington’s School of Dentistry, alongside Rosenthal and a class of aspiring dentists that was roughly half women. “I was so glad I did it,” Behla says. “Dental school showed me that I wasn’t alone.”
Being a female dentist is a little hoop to jump over, Behla acknowledges. “At first most people assume you’re the hygienist or dental assistant, but they’re usually fine once they learn that you’re the dentist,” she says.
The Methow move
After graduating from dental school, Behla moved to Las Vegas for her residency, where she specialized in advanced skills in general dentistry. But when Rosenthal joined Sawtooth Dental, he planted a seed in Behla’s mind that eventually took root. “He kept telling me that I should move to the Methow Valley and work for Sawtooth Dental,” Behla says. “He just kept describing the community and all these outdoor adventures to be had. And it was clear that another dentist was truly needed in town.”
Eventually, Behla says, she began to feel like her time in Las Vegas had expired and she was ready to be in a place where she was needed, “not just another of dozens of dentists along the street.” And Rosenthal was right, Behla says. “As soon as I got here people were saying to me how glad they were to have another dentist in town.”
In addition to being needed, Behla says that trees helped confirm her decision to move to the Methow Valley. “I was just ready for forests again.” An outdoorsy type like many of her new patients, Behla enjoys hiking and rock climbing, but she also pursues other interests like drawing, painting, and playing video games. She hopes to find a place in the valley where she can continue to learn more pottery techniques, too.
Behla began her job at Sawtooth Dental in July, seeing patients for two weeks, before embarking on a personal trip that she had had planned prior to accepting the new position. She’ll be back at Sawtooth Dental full-time in September, where she’ll help “open up the practice more and create a balance of skills.”
For example, Behla specializes in implants and oral surgery, so for the first time in many years, Sawtooth Dental will be able to offer root canals, instead of sending patients to Wenatchee.
Behla is as excited about the community as she is about Sawtooth Dental’s patients’ good oral hygiene. “People here seem to take really good care of their teeth,” she says. “It has been very encouraging.”
Even more encouraging is the reception she has received from community members. “It’s very new for me to live in a small, tight community,” she says. “It’s a really cool feeling to know that I have a way to be a useful part of it.”