For Dr. Jack Kayton, dentistry isn’t just a career — it’s an opportunity to give back.
The ever-humble and friendly dentist said that though he has learned a lot over the last three decades of his work, the most important thing he has discovered is the importance of compassion and empathy.
These lessons were instilled in him by his parents and have informed his work both in his practice and in his volunteer work with the Charlottesville Free Clinic.
Raised in Hampton as an only child, Kayton knew from a young age what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“Strange as it may sound, I’ve known since I was 12 years old that I wanted to be a dentist,” Kayton said. “My parents were very supportive, and so was my dentist. I’ve been blessed with an amazing family and mentors my whole life.”
Though his family was supportive, Kayton said finances were sometimes difficult, as they were supported by his father, whose work as a plumber and a steamfitter was sometimes scarce to come by.
“Everything was about me going to school and getting an education and working hard learning to do the right thing,” he said. “The sacrifices my parents made raising me and getting me through college instilled in me an appreciation for what I have and the drive to give back when I can.”
Kayton has continued that spirit in his personal life and practice, taking over the Community Dental Program, the project of his mentor, Dr. Larry Brannon. The program offered free dental care to those who couldn’t afford it. After running that program out of his practice for several years, Kayton joined the Charlottesville Free Clinic, where he has continued to offer his services and help the clinic’s dental program grow.
The clinic’s dental program, now run by Dr. Jonathan Leist, boasts a full-time dentist, a hygienist and several assistants, as well as more than 30 volunteer dentists.
Colleen Keller, executive director of the free clinic, has worked with Kayton since he joined the clinic’s board in 2014. In that time, she has seen him work tirelessly to grow the dental clinic.
“[Kayton] has a tremendous sense of duty and an amazing sense of humor; he makes the whole room laugh at every board meeting,” she said.
Even though his term on the clinic’s board will end soon, Keller said she expects Kayton soon will help lead the board as an officer, which will be the first time a dentist has filled that role.
“It’s a testament to both his dedication and how highly he’s viewed by his peers,” she said.
While most of Kayton’s volunteer work is centered in the Charlottesville-Albemarle County area, he also has traveled to Wise County as part of the annual Virginia Dental Association-sponsored Mission of Mercy, which provided dental care to underserved communities for two decades.
Kayton’s volunteering also has taken him to Saltadere, Haiti, as part of a joint mission from St. Thomas and Holy Comforter Catholic churches in Charlottesville. Though an Episcopalian, Kayton said he could not refuse the opportunity when it was pitched to him by two of his patients.
“I am so impressed with the work of these churches,” he said. “They have built a school where hundreds of kids go each day, and recently they built a medical/dental clinic that has electricity via solar power.”
Whether at home or abroad, Kayton said it all comes back to his guiding principles of treating other people the way he would want to be treated and giving back, whenever possible.
“If you treat everyone that way, then most of the time you end up getting treated pretty well by others,” he said. “It doesn’t always work out that way, but at least you know you’ve done your part.”