The Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction is presented to licensed dental hygienists who go above and beyond typical hygiene practice. They serve as role models and mentors to us all and use their education and talents to make this world a better place. Traditionally, award recipients are honored at RDH Under One Roof, a three-day action-packed event offering quality hygiene education and a chance to mingle with fellow hygienists. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s event was held virtually on October 9–11.
Although the 2020 recipients of the Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction were unable to receive their awards in person this year, we still take immense pride in introducing the four recipients of the award to you here. Jennifer Geiselhofer, Jaci Klepadlo, Lisandra Maisonet, and Karen Thomas are the four newest dental hygienists to join this prestigious group of key influencers. Congratulations to the 2020 Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction recipients! You make us all proud to be dental hygienists!
Jennifer Geiselhofer, RDH
Like most hygienists, Jennifer Geiselhofer began her career in private practice. During her 23 years in a general dentistry practice, she found that her real passion was for dental Missions of Mercy. This passion for the underserved led her to create a portable preventive dental business called Dental at Your Door.
The mission of Dental at Your Door is “to provide access to high-quality preventative dental health care. This includes serving patients of all ages with significant health issues, mobility challenges, and financial limitations.”
But still, Jennifer worried about those whom she couldn’t treat—the people who had to be turned away because they did not have private insurance or did not qualify for state assistance and couldn’t afford to self-pay. So she created a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called Deserving Dental, which is funded through grants and donations.
Jennifer has three dental assistants and four hygienists working with her to provide preventive oral health services to those who would not be able to afford it otherwise. They provide prophies, scaling and root planing, digital x-rays, oral cancer screenings, exams, sealants, silver diamine fluoride, and referrals to dental and medical offices—all while providing their patients with hope and teaching them the value of a clean mouth and how it can affect their overall health.
One of Jennifer’s dental assistants nominated her for the Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction. She stated, “After having a dental visit with Jennifer, a lot of patients are so happy with their care that they leave emotional, grateful, and even like to give hugs.”
Many of their male patients have shaved their beards after a cleaning because they don’t want to hide their teeth anymore!
Referrals to dentists and physicians are important for patients who have completed visits with Jennifer and her team. Jennifer has partnered with several Medicaid-approved providers such as general dentists, oral surgeons, head-and-neck physicians, and ENTs for continuing-care referrals.
One nominator stated, “Dental at Your Door was a huge accomplishment considering how many hoops she had to jump through, tears shed, and countless hours spent getting everything in order that she needed to start her dream!” Because Jennifer followed that dream of serving the underserved, she has become a recipient of the 2020 Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction.
Congratulations, Jennifer Geiselhofer!
Jaci Klepadlo, BSDH, RDH
(Mays Landing, New Jersey)
“Invest in yourself and give back to others” is Jaci Klepadlo’s advice to other hygienists. Giving back to others is second nature to Jaci. In addition to working as a clinical hygienist for 13 years, she has served as past president of the New Jersey Dental Hygienists’ Association (NJDHA) and is currently cochair of Veterans Smile Day Foundation. According to one of Jaci’s nominators, “Finding out Jaci was cochair on the team was no surprise at all. Her hard work and determination are a force to reckon with. She could get through any hurdles thrown her way.”
Jaci became involved with Veterans Smile Day Foundation with her employer, a former navy dentist. After serving in Afghanistan, her employer returned to New Jersey and learned that veterans receive dental benefits only if they have retired from the military or were injured in the line of duty. This information left the vast majority of those who served without dental care, and those who do receive it have to travel great distances to get to a VA clinic that has a dental component on-site.
Jaci and her employer made it their mission to give back to veterans, and they founded the Veterans Smile Day Foundation. As cochair, Jaci has spent the past six years working with our nation’s veterans and dental providers across the nation to deliver free dental care to the men and women who have served selflessly for our country but who do not receive dental benefits. Each year you will find her offering her expertise to the local veterans for free to help make a difference in their oral care and overall health. She strongly believes in helping our veterans live a better life.
The Veterans Smile Day Foundation is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) whose mission is “to recruit dental professionals and corporate sponsorships to help fill in that void by ‘Serving Those Who’ve Served.’” Since its inception in 2012, it has grown to include private dental offices, dental schools, hospitals, and dental societies throughout the United States.
Jaci invites you to volunteer with the Veterans Smile Day Foundation. Find out how you can use your dental hygiene skills to “serve those who’ve served” by contacting Jaci at [email protected]. Because Jaci followed her passion for serving our veterans, she has become a recipient of the 2020 Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction.
Congratulations, Jaci Klepadlo!
Lisandra Maisonet, BS, RDH, PHDHP, EFDA
(Pennsylvania)Mentoring, educating, creating systems within the dental office, igniting passion in dental hygienists, meeting challenges—these are all aspects of Lisandra
While working in both the preventive and restorative aspects of dentistry and assisting in IV sedation cases in the pediatric practice, Lisandra questioned why they were treating a disease that was totally preventable. Answering this question became the driving force that brought her to her current role as director of operations and hygiene and leader to 50 dental hygienists in 22 practices, where she has created strong systems that focus on disease prevention and education on oral-systemic health.
Lisandra has made a positive impact on her community in many ways. She is an educator for the Healthy Teeth Healthy Children program, where she goes to pediatricians’ offices and educates medical professionals on the importance of oral health and fluoride application. She is a volunteer for Mission of Mercy, providing dental care to the underserved in her state, and she has presented numerous courses for the Cavity Free Kids program in Pennsylvania to educate the community on the importance of oral health.
During her active membership with the Pennsylvania Dental Hygienists’ Association (PDHA), Lisandra served as president for three years. In that time, she worked hard to push initiatives forward to enhance the profession of dental hygiene. She mentors and inspires hygienists to become involved and serve in their association.
With financial help from the PDHA, Lisandra was given the opportunity to create a video that highlights the dental hygienist. While working diligently on this video, she was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and hospitalized. Nevertheless, Lisandra continued with editing of the video with the desire to leave it as a legacy at the end of her PDHA presidency. The goal of the video was to share with patients and legislators the fact that dental hygienists are educated preventive specialists who are willing and capable of providing care to the most vulnerable populations. While daunting at times, her passion for this project was what kept her going through difficult times. Lisandra’s hope is that, through this video, hygienists will finally gain the respect they deserve.
Because Lisandra followed her inner drive to make a difference on so many levels, she has become a recipient of the 2020 Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction.
Congratulations, Lisandra Maisonet!
Karen Thomas, MSc, BS, RDH, CNS, LN, ND, FDN-P, CHHC, Biological RDH
(Raleigh, North Carolina)Karen Thomas began her career as a clinical dental hygienist in Florida. She later became a research dental hygienist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and was the examiner for patients with temporomandibular disorder (TMD), fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, episodic headaches, and pelvic pain. It broke her heart to see patients in so much pain. As an examiner, she gathered data but did not have the opportunity to make a personal connection with the
Then, life took a turn in Karen’s career … and her health. Her future mother-in-law became seriously ill days before her wedding. Over a short period of time, the house she was selling caught fire the day before closing, her father passed away, her new home needed significant renovations, and her new husband ended up in the hospital. Karen was told he would not make it. Unfortunately, her mother-in-law did pass on, but Karen’s husband came home from the hospital and is fine today.
The stress became too much to bear and, as Karen puts it, her body simply shut down. She took a medical leave from her job and spent the next two years in bed, doing little more than sleeping.
After two years of doctors’ appointments, 15 different diagnoses, multiple medications, and still no improvement, Karen took matters into her own hands. She had been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis as a teenager. Karen found research stating that 2%–5% of people with Hashimoto’s also have celiac disease, but no doctor had tested her for that. Karen ordered tests on her own and presented the results to her doctor, who finally diagnosed her with celiac disease. She gave up gluten, among several other dietary changes, and got her life back. As one of her nominators for the award said, “Thankfully, the dental hygiene curriculum and the way we as RDHs are taught to decipher information are ultimately what helped her heal herself through food.”
Karen had regained her life but still wanted to help others. She went back to college to learn more about integrative medicine and combined that education with her dental hygiene training to help others link oral health with systemic health. She attained a master of science in human nutrition and functional medicine and became a licensed nutritionist, a certified nutrition specialist, a certified integrative nutrition health coach, and a certified functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner. Karen is also the award-winning author of Overwhelmed and Undernourished: Use Food as Medicine and Turn Your Life Around. She currently works as a functional medicine nutritionist and teaches continuing education in dentistry.
It is easy to see why Roy T. Bennett's quote is one of Karen’s favorites: “Your hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of your life. Keep going. Tough situations build strong people in the end.”
Congratulations, Karen Thomas!