Think of all the good things dental hygienists do: we make mouths healthy and nice looking; we save lives by detecting oral cancer; we teach patients about the oral-systemic link to keep patients’ whole bodies healthy; we personalize home-care instructions for each patient; and some of us think we should receive honorary degrees in counseling. To do all these things well, we need to be kind people. We need to have heart.
One of the many definitions of “heart,” according to Merriam-Webster, is “the emotional or moral nature as distinguished from the intellectual nature, such as a generous disposition; compassion.”1
Every year, Philips and RDH magazine partner to recognize three hygienists who exemplify the definition of “heart” in unique ways. The Philips/RDH Heart to Hands Award, now in its sixth year, will be presented at RDH Under One Roof in Orlando, Florida, in July. It is an honor to share the stories of dental hygienists Anaika Forbes, Julie Malone, and Carrie Wucinich with you.
Anaika Forbes: Take what you need; leave what you canAnaika Forbes, MSDH, BSDH, RDH, began her dental career in her college years. With no dental background, she worked at the front desk. Patients asked
After graduation from hygiene school, Anaika began working in a pediatric dental office and “came alive with pedo patients.” She spent 10 happy years in the pediatric office and five years in various specialties, including public health. She loved teaching patients about oral hygiene and systemic health. In fact, she enjoyed imparting knowledge so much that she decided to return to college to obtain her master’s degree in dental hygiene with a concentration in education.
Anaika has been teaching dental hygiene for the past five years and is currently an adjunct professor at New York University. She continues to temp in pedo offices.
In 2016, that tugging at Anaika’s heart led to action by her hands . . . literally. She started making sandwiches for the hungry. Anaika took $50 of her own money and went to the dollar store, bought everything she needed for sandwiches, and made approximately 100 sandwiches, which she distributed to homeless shelters. And that was the beginning of the Brooklyn chapter of the nonprofit #HashtagLunchbag.
Volunteers helped Anaika make the sandwiches and distribute them to marginalized communities throughout Brooklyn. All was going well until the COVID-19 pandemic caused a massive citywide shutdown. Volunteers were no longer able to bring food to shelters, but people were still hungry and in need of food—some more than ever due to the pandemic.
Since then, Anaika and her team of volunteers have added two more fridges and stock them two or three times a week. Their motto is: “Take what you need; leave what you can.”
In addition to feeding the hungry of Brooklyn, Anaika provides six community mini “libraries” to feed the minds of her community. People can donate or take books from these libraries.
In her roles as hygienist, educator, and advocate for marginalized communities, Anaika truly shows what the heart and hands can do to make this world a better place for all.
Congratulations, Anaika Forbes, 2022 recipient of the Philips/RDH Heart to Hands Award!
Julie Malone: Department of oneJulie Malone, RDH, graduated from dental hygiene school at age 19 and has practiced in Illinois for more than 37 years. She worked in general practices for most of her career until her current job “found her,” as she puts it. In January 2017, one of Julie’s patients asked her if she’d consider working at Fox Center, a state-
Julie wasn’t so sure. Her whole career had been spent in general practice, and working for an SODC was out of her comfort zone. But she decided to apply for the position anyway. She did not get it, but the hygienist who took the position did not stay long, and in the summer of 2018, Julie’s patient told her the position was once again available and urged her to reapply. Still hesitant, Julie sent in her application, and this time she was hired for the position.
Julie credits her years as a general practice hygienist for giving her the skills, training, assertiveness, and confidence needed to follow a nontraditional career path. Although she wasn’t looking for a change, it came her way, and she decided to take this new path. Julie states, “A career doesn’t have to be one straight line.”
Julie discovered that she loves her new job, even though it is much more physically demanding than her previous work in general dentistry. Most of her patients are nonverbal and in wheelchairs. A mental health technician assists her while she is treating patients. Julie has to stand most of the time when providing patient care. In time, she has gotten to know her patients and has learned to read their verbal and nonverbal signs of discomfort and pleasure. Although the challenges—both physical and emotional—are great, Julie finds that the rewards are even greater. As she has gotten to know her patients, she has grown attached to them.
Julie does much more than clinical care, however. She calls herself a “department of one”: training new staff; providing resources for staff and families; assisting the dentist who comes once a week; scheduling treatment; coordinating care with other health providers in the facility; keeping on top of sterilization and infection control; ordering the clinic’s dental supplies; and keeping up-to-date with CDC guidelines.
When Julie arrived at Fox Center, the dental hygiene program was already well established, but she has brought new treatments and products, such as silver diamine as needed and fluoride treatments for all. She stays current in her career by attending RDH Under One Roof whenever possible.
In 2014, Julie was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer—a soft-tissue sarcoma—in her ankle. She began to practice yoga as a way to deal with the physical and emotional aspects of the disease and treatment. She credits yoga with helping her as she faces the physical challenges in her current position. In addition to yoga, Julie enjoys reading and spending time with her two grandchildren.
Congratulations, Julie Malone, 2022 recipient of the Philips/RDH Heart to Hands Award!
Carrie Wucinich: Helping children in more ways than one
Until Carrie became a parent herself, she didn’t understand how difficult it is to establish a dental care routine. So, she decided to create a fun book that speaks to kids on their level. In 2020, Carrie’s book, Where the Sugar Bugs Live, was published. But this book does not only help children keep their mouths healthy; proceeds from the book go to families struggling with childhood cancer.In 2016, Carrie attended a fundraising gala for cancer research. The speaker, Mary, spoke of her son, who had passed away from cancer. Carrie had just given birth to her first son, and her heart was so touched by Mary’s story that she sent an email to her, asking what she could do to help. This was the
Carrie realized that dental health takes a back seat when a child is diagnosed with cancer. She saw a need and, along with fellow dental hygienist Jill Lippert, created the Sugar Bug Fun Bundle, which contains specific products a child will need while undergoing cancer treatments. Carrie’s mission is to get these bundles to all children in hospitals nationwide.
Frequently, Carrie is accompanied on her visits to children’s hospitals by a Jack Russell terrier therapy dog named Bark-André Furry and his owner. Together, they provide comfort and smiles—along with products to keep those smiles healthy—to children dealing with cancer.
At times, the sadness of witnessing children and their families suffer through cancer can be overwhelming, and Carrie sheds many tears, but the rewards of seeing kids’ faces light up when she visits, the relationships she develops with the families, and knowing that she is playing a part in helping children return to health make all the tears worthwhile.
Congratulations, Carrie Wucinich, 2022 recipient of the Philips/RDH Heart to Hands Award!
Philips and RDH magazine will host a reception to honor the three winners and celebrate their contributions to dental hygiene at RDH Under One Roof in
Orlando, Florida, July 21, 2022, from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Congratulations again to three special hygienists with compassionate hearts!
- Merriam-Webster. Heart. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/heart
- Living through giving. #HashtagLunchbag. https://www.hashtaglunchbag.org/
- Community Fridge NY. Change X. https://www.changex.org/co/communityfridge/brooklyn-ny-usa-kings-county