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Featured Colorado hygienists: Kari Brennan, RDH, and Susan Cotten, BS, RDH, OMT

April 1, 2020
This year, RDH Under One Roof is setting up shop in Denver. Mark your calendars for July 15–18 and learn more at rdhunderoneroof.com. While we’re waiting for the big week, let’s look at some of the hygienists doing great, innovative work in Colorado.
Kari Brennan, RDH 

I am a Colorado cowgirl, a mother of two—Hattie and Milo—and the owner of my own independent dental hygiene practice, White River Dental Hygiene, located in the scenic rural town of Meeker, Colorado. It’s a town where everyone waves at each other as we drive down the road, and where cattle and sheep on the road are our only reasons for traffic jams.

When my oldest child started school in Meeker in 2015, and since Meeker is the town where my family does most of our business, my husband, Neil, and I decided it was time for a change. At the time I was working in Rifle, and it was not an option for me to work for the two dentists in Meeker. This is when I had to think outside the box! 

I wondered if independent hygiene could be an option for me right here in Meeker. It was, but not without me first conducting countless hours of research, writing a business plan, and spending plenty of time envisioning just what I wanted in my practice. My vision and dream have come true, and it has been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined!

Owning my practice has its pros and cons, but I’ve been able to control my schedule to make my employment revolve around my life. I attribute much of my success to the fact that I’m involved in my community, I’m a member of our national, state, and local dental hygiene components, and I network with other like-minded people. I’ve also had several networking opportunities, such as speaking at the Colorado Dental Hygienists’ Association (CDHA) annual session, performing oral cancer screenings annually at our local health fair, providing dental education and dental goodies to the local elementary students, serving as a delegate at the annual House of Delegates, and serving as the student liaison for our local component. 

I provide an array of services, such dental prophylaxis, periodontal care, silver diamine fluoride treatments, interim therapeutic restorations, and teledentistry. I am extremely proud of my accomplishments and the success of my business! I would not be where I am today without certain individuals who supported me along this journey. The power of serving my patients’ oral health needs while providing direct access and quality dental care in my community is nothing short of amazing!

When I’m not working or volunteering, I enjoy hunting, team roping, barrel racing, volleyball, and many outdoor activities with my family. 

Susan Cotten, BS, RDH, OMT

Growing up in Colorado meant weekends on the ski slopes, horseback riding in the mountains, and working alongside my dad, a veterinarian, at his animal hospital. It was working with my dad where I first used an ultrasonic scaler to perform dog and cat dental treatment. A client who was a dental hygienist told me about the amazing world of dental hygiene, and that’s when I discovered my career path.

After practicing dental hygiene for 16 years, two events changed my life, both within the course of one week. The first was witnessing the struggle of my favorite patient, Evelyn, an HPV oropharyngeal cancer survivor who simply wanted to be able to smile without being embarrassed. The other was my selection for Donny Osmond’s Make a Difference Program. That was the beginning of my passion and purpose: to raise awareness and educate people about HPV, oral and oropharyngeal cancer, and the life-saving cancer exam we as dental professionals perform on every patient every time, or at least we should be.

There was a time when I was not very thorough in conducting screenings. I often allowed the busyness of my day, a late patient, mandates in the office, or production to take precedence. I wondered how many times I had missed an abnormal sign or symptom in a patient that needed a referral. I needed to change, so during the last nine years I’ve focused on growing my knowledge and expertise in the area of HPV, oral and oropharyngeal cancer, and screening. 

I meet other dental professionals who were where I once was, facing the same struggles, unsure of their screening techniques or talking about HPV, and lacking a team approach to this life-saving exam and assessment. Studies reveal that only one third of adults in the US report being screened. Late-stage diagnosis is prevalent, and oropharyngeal cancer has increased approximately 225% in the last 20 years. For these reasons I started my business, Oral Cancer Consulting.

I am now an enthusiastic speaker, consultant, and subject matter expert on HPV and the oral and oropharyngeal cancer exam. I developed the “Cotten Method,” a comprehensive office system specific to oral cancer that assists dental providers in early detection while reducing risk for liability. 

I am a 2018 recipient of the Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction and CDHA Outstanding Contribution award. My passion has led me to become the regional coordinator and RDH Advisory Board member with The Oral Cancer Foundation, the oral cancer screening coordinator and board member with Colorado Mission of Mercy, and a dental trainer for the HPV Free Colorado initiative.