Brenda Trammel spent countless hours staring at black and white numbers as the bookkeeper at a private firm.
During tax seasons, she started work before the sun came up and ended her days well after midnight.
Then one day during tax season in 2000, she was sitting in the chair at the dentist getting her teeth cleaned, and she realized she'd had enough.
"I said to my dentist, 'I'm tired of doing what I do," she said. "I want to do what she does. And I pointed to her dental assistant."
Her dentist offered her a job on the spot.
"She said, 'If you're serious, I'll hire you and put you through school,'" Trammel said. She left the dentist's office knowing that she was going to put in her two weeks notice at her bookkeeping job.
"And I've never looked back," she said. "I love what I do."
In the 13 years since, Trammel steadily climbed the ranks of Tennessee's 7,200 registered dental assistants and was elected president of the Tennessee Dental Assistants Association in 2011.
Registered dental assistants have to pass an exam issued by the Tennessee Board of Dentistry, and Trammel wants people to know that dental assistants are more than just "spit suckers."
"We do all kinds of procedures, from fillings to cosmetics to dentures," she said. "When you're a dental assistant in Tennessee, you have to know a little bit about everything."
She helped push Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield to recognize this week as Dental Assistants Recognition Week. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam also is expected to recognize the week.
"To get the recognition of the mayor and the state governor, I'm really proud of that," she said.
For the last six years, Trammel has been working at dentist Jim Holloway's office, just off Highway 153 in Chattanooga. She loves coming in to work every day, she said, because every day is different.
"Every day is a challenge," she said. "You never know what your patients will bring to the table. I get to interact with people. And for me that's the difference. When you're a bookkeeper, it's black and white. The numbers can't argue with you."