Terri Tiersky was a political science major, sitting in a constitutional law class at the University of Illinois in
Champaign, when it hit her.
The junior no longer wanted to be a lawyer.
She wanted to be a dentist.
Teeth trumped torts.
“I was surrounded by all of these pre-law students, and a career in law at that point seemed too aggressive in nature to me,” recalls Tiersky, the daughter of a dentist (the late Morris Tiersky), the sister of a dentist (the late David Tiersky) and the niece of a dentist (the late Raymond Tiersky).
“I remember telling one of my four college roommates, ‘I’ve decided to be pre-dent.’ Then I called my parents [Morris and Joan, 90 going on 60] to let them know.”
Tiersky ended up getting her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science at Illinois — after scrambling to load up on science courses in her final three semesters to make her a viable dental school candidate. She was accepted by the Loyola University School of Dentistry in Maywood.
“There I was at Loyola, taking classes with students who had majored in sciences as undergraduates,” Tiersky says. “They were much more familiar with a microscope than I was.”
Tiersky, sitting at a table at Walker Bros Original Pancake House in Highland Park, smiles. It’s the kind of smile — bright and warm, with super-straight teeth — you’d expect and demand from your dentist. She orders coffee, two egg whites scrambled, a fresh fruit medley and a side of wheat germ and granola pancakes.
The Annual Midwinter Meeting of the Chicago Dental Society (CDS) will be held Feb. 23-25 at McCormick Place West in Chicago. Expected to attend the gathering of close to 30,000 folks (including about 6,000 dentists) is the fourth woman to serve as vice president of the CDS, a 152-year-old organization. The woman — in line to assume the CDS presidency in 2020 — was the captain of a badminton team at Evanston Township High School in the late 1970s, got married (to Roland Davidson) at the age of 36, became a mother at the age of 40 and has lived in Highland Park for 21 years.
She is now 57.
And sitting across from me.
“My mom’s message to me, when I was young, was, ‘You can be whatever you want to be,’ ” says Terri Tiersky, DDS, whose General Dentistry practice is located in Skokie. “It was wonderful to hear that from her, and it’s the freedom I want to instill in my daughter [Devin Davidson, a Highland Park High School junior who has made the varsity tennis and softball teams since her freshman year].
“What I love about my job is the interaction with my patients. They sometimes use me as a sounding board for subjects that have nothing to do with teeth. I enjoy being there for them, to listen and to console if necessary. You can be a good person as a dentist, a professional on several levels, and you don’t have to be the loudest person in the room.”
In her dentist’s chair one day was the greatest player to suit up for her favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. None other than Ernie Banks — Mr. Cub, Mr. “Let’s play two!” — would become one of Tiersky’s regular patients for nearly five years. Tiersky had attended her first game at Wrigley Field as a fourth-grader, right around the time the Cubs galvanized their faithful in the nearly magical summer of 1969.
“Such a nice man,” Tiersky says. “Every time he had an appointment, Ernie would call my husband from the office, just to chat with him.”
The most influential figure in the first decade of Tiersky’s professional life was D. Milton Salzer, DDS, with whom she worked as an associate for 12 years in Chicago. Dr. Salzer now welcomes patients at his practice in Northbrook.
“A great mentor, a really good dentist and a good man,” says Dr. Tiersky, who was recently named to the board of trustees of the Healthcare Foundation of Highland Park. “He took me to my first Chicago Dental Society Members Meeting, where I enjoyed the camaraderie of the members. Through the [subsequent] dinners, through my involvement with the committees and through the opportunities to serve as a leader (for the CDS and American Dental Association), I’ve developed lifelong friendships.
“We’re excited about the Midwinter Meeting, about rolling out some of our industry’s new technology,” adds the former CDS treasurer. “People from all over — people from warm states — will visit Chicago in our frigid winter to complete continuing education courses, check out dental supplies from vendors, see live patient demonstrations.”
Today is Tiersky’s day off, but that doesn’t mean the dentist intends to return home and sit in a cozy chair. It’s a day to attend another fitness class (strength and core) at the Recreation Center of Highland Park. She visits the Rec Center four days per week.
The good dentist also has taken cardio kickboxing, barre chisel and weightlifting classes at the facility on Park Avenue.
“These last six months, I’ve been feeling better,” Tiersky says.
Twenty-six years ago, a woman found the time to take night classes at John Marshall Law School in Chicago while working full-time in an entirely different field. The woman earned a JD degree to go with her DDS degree, though today she is fully committed to her patients’ teeth rather than to the truth in a courtroom.