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Sunstar | RDH Award of Distinction 2019

Sept. 4, 2019
These four outstanding dental hygienists were presented with their awards at the 2019 Under One Roof conference.

Introduction by Jackie L. Sanders, MBA, RDH

Profiles by Cathleen Terhune Alty, BA, RDH

Have you spent time with a Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction recipient? I reflect on each of these individuals and consider how they have influenced my life, and on many days were my driving force to make a difference.

We are often told we echo the company we keep, and if you are a driven dental hygienist seeking a little motivation, support, or stimulus, you should reach out to an Award of Distinction recipient. You will find that they are like you in numerous ways—they are just a little further down the path and eager to bring you along. Learning from their lessons and words of encouragement could help you get from point A to point B faster or more easily.

On Thursday, August 1, 2019, four dental hygienists took the stage and were honored for their achievements. Amber Auger, Susan Jeffries, Rafael R. Rondon, and Crystal R. Spring are the most recent dental hygienists to join a prestigious group of 125 key influencers. The Award of Distinction recipients are a nationwide group who have become recognized for their driving force and desire to make positive changes in their communities.

The 2019 recipients are from Massachusetts, Maryland, Florida, and Montana. They were selected from 100-plus applicants and have been defined as enlightening, instrumental, impactful, and diligent. Throughout the article you will read about their accomplishments, and you will acquire an understanding of who these individuals are and what has driven them to push through their challenges while making a difference in so many people’s lives. The recipients of 2019 are creating positive change through mission work, assisting many to discuss mental health openly, providing early oral health education, and caring for the Native American population.

Spending time with the 2019 Award of Distinction honorees, I once again felt I was the fortunate one, having the opportunity to share ideas while being inspired by four individuals who are making a difference. 


1. Gallo C. 3 steps to finding people who’ll lift your potential, according to award-winning Harvard researcher. Inc.com website. https://www.inc.com/carmine-gallo/3-steps-to-finding-people-wholl-lift-your-potential-according-to-award-winning-harvard-researcher.html. Published March 14, 2018. 

Amber Auger, MPH, RDH
Somerville, Massachusetts

Amber Auger helps hygienists nationwide achieve long-term success in their careers. She is a writer and speaker, as well as an international missions worker. “Amber has committed her time and clinical experience in the area of service to those who are unable to access regular dental care,” wrote a nominator. 

“She has personally overseen several mission trips to Nicaragua, Africa, the Dominican Republic, etc. The desire to serve is also evident in the area of education and knowledge translation she provides to the professional community. Her #AskAmberRDH [Facebook Live video series] has been very well received, making her a respected educator amidst her peers. Her main objective in her outreach missions is to help others live a healthier life with the attainment of improved oral health.”

Auger is a clinical and business consultant, focusing on enhancing workflow and periodontal integration. She is RDH magazine’s Millennial Mentor, influencing the newer members of dental hygiene to be involved, contribute, and create the change they want to see in the profession and the world. She also creates public and private partnerships to encourage better community oral health. 

She has helped her peers stay up-to-date on the latest information important to their clinical work, and importantly, to stay excited about the profession and achieve long-term career success.

“I believe Amber’s greatest accomplishments in private practice are reoccurring during every appointment she has with her patients. She takes the time to build a foundational bond with each patient. Amber takes time to build trust that transcends the chair. A true advocate for positive change, Amber has used her platform to educate dental offices and hygienists on a wide range of topics. Amber has passion for patient care, transformation, and education, and is unwavering in the work she provides for the industry.”

Susan Jeffries, BSDH, RDH
Annapolis, Maryland

When it comes to helping dental professionals address mental health issues, it may indeed “take a village.” Susan Jeffries has created multiple private group forums she calls “villages” to offer support and a safe haven for dental professionals to discuss personal issues such as bullying, depression, and suicide. “Sue is a natural teacher and leader,” her nominator wrote. “Sue’s villages offer a safe harbor of love and support where members are each other’s sounding boards to talk through their challenges. By offering these villages, Sue is instrumental in providing a safe haven for the depressed when they may feel they have nowhere to turn.”

Each village gives access to approximately 15 members to acknowledge their feelings and talk with like-minded individuals. As members heal emotionally, they become better equipped to care for themselves, their families, and their patients.

A Navy veteran of 20 years, Jeffries is now not only an advocate for mental health issues, but a personal coach. She launched a business, Your Vivacious Practice (YVP), in 2018 to coach practices, students, and colleagues to success. “With experience working in each supporting position in the dental office, Sue has the business acumen to get practices performing at their peak. Sue excels at team morale and finding the voids needing correction in regard to business, clinical, and/or team relations. These strengths and achievements were the pinnacle for launching her business,” her nominator explained.

Jeffries is open about her own personal mental health and has shared her struggles with depression, mental and physical abuse, and bipolar diagnosis. “It affects not only the one suffering but also those around them, including our patients, as their level of care is compromised. I am so proud of Sue for continually breaking down the barriers, the stigma, and silence surrounding mental health among our colleagues in dentistry. Sue has identified a very distinct need in the dental profession and she is filling the void by bringing people together and reminding them there is always the promise of a better tomorrow if you just believe,” wrote her nominator.

Rafael R. Rondon, BS, RDH
Kissimmee, Florida

Rafael Rondon is a dental hygienist with a passion for making a difference through education, and has been working in the dental field for over 29 years. For the past 19 year, he has worked with dental group practices, where he has coached, mentored and trained dental hygienists. He has had an impact in communicating dental health concepts and successes throughout the country. He has positively impacted not only patients, but hundreds of dental hygienists across the country in different dental communities.

In his spare time, he visits local schools to provide presentation on oral health and prevention. His mission has been to visit schools and to ducate on home care and nutrition that will help prevent and control oral disease. With his wife by his side, he has also worked with a children’s ministry for 18 years, where many of the children he has mentored have gone on to become dental professionals because of his influence. 

Rondon is also a mentor as the founder of Mr. RDH, a networking and support platform for male dental hygienists. “Its mission is to create a platform for male hygienists around the world to be able to network, discuss, and influence factors that affect men as dental hygienists,” he said. 

For five years, Rondon contributed to the Dental Impact team serving underprivileged patients. He said that these events often stirred up many emotions, as he realized that we often take things for granted and don’t think of what we have and others don’t. “Every time I handed out a toothbrush, I felt he was giving that patient a chance to keep their teeth a little longer.”

 “I am very proud to be a dental hygienist,” said Rondon. “I chose a career where I am making a difference in people’s lives by influencing and educating on oral health and the overall well-being. I feel like I am a tree with many branches that are reaching out to patients; near or far, I make a difference.”

Crystal R. Spring, BSDH, RDH, LAP
Bozeman, Montana

Crystal R. Spring is all about access to care. She believes everyone deserves a healthy smile and works to achieve this goal. “It has become my mission to work at improving not only oral health outcomes, but the overall health of individuals with limited access to care,” she said. After working in private practice for 20 years and public health for the last six years, she has transitioned into a full-time public-health role. In 2014, she began working in school-based clinics in her hometown on the Fort Peck Reservation. “Working in the school-based clinics is changing the lives of so many. Improving oral health outcomes is definitely a life-changing goal, but the work we are able to do reaches even further. The team approach of collaborating interprofessionally and focusing on whole health is really working. I have also been able to  mentor students that may be interested in the dental/medical professions.” 

Spring has also volunteered for Special Smiles, serving as the Special Smiles Clinical Director in Montana for several years. She grew up with her brother competing in the Special Olympics, and Special Smiles has been one of her favorite volunteer opportunities. Spring holds a limited access permit (LAP) for her state. She continues to work in nursing homes and assisted living facilities where she brings mobile services to the residents and helps to educate residents and staff on dental hygiene protocol.

She cofounded Smiles Across Montana (SAM) with her partner Cara Reck, BS, RDH, LAP, to serve the people of Montana. “Smiles Across Montana is a nonprofit organization with the goal of eliminating oral disparities in  Montana. We work in a mobile capacity, bringing the dental clinic to the public,” she said.

They started with one unit, a portable chair, and a big dream. “Starting our own nonprofit has been difficult. But our belief in what we are doing to help improve not only the oral health but the overall health of our patients has kept us moving forward,” Spring said. I have reaped the emotional highs you get from changing the lives of  patients for the better. We have spent months dreaming about the changes we could make through SAM. We stepped out of our comfort zones. Our belief in SAM and its effect on the health of Montanans is what keeps us moving forward.”

Smiles Across Montana began seeing patients in January 2018. SAM primarily focuses on children but is open to all possibilities. “We have grown exponentially in the past year. We have partnered with the Montana State Nursing Department and Dr. Laura Larrsen, serving the Northern Cheyenne Reservation. We have been so fortunate to find two dentists to come alongside and join our mission (Dr. Nasim Aleagha and Dr. Kirk Stetson). We continue to lobby for legislation that improves the lives of Montanans.”

“The place I am from and the amazing people living there who suffer from limited access to care has been a major catalyst for my passion to bring equitable services to all Montanans. I feel truly fortunate to be able to love my work and to share it with the world.”