The purpose of the Philips/RDH Heart to Hands Award is to celebrate the passionate hearts of dental hygienists and the services provided through their caring hands. This award, begun in 2017, is presented to three dental hygienists who find joy in giving to their communities by utilizing their knowledge, skills, and caring hearts to help others in need. The 2023 winners of this award are Charlene Jackson-Collins, Amanda Krompetz, and Toni Meyerkord. It is an honor for Philips and RDH magazine to once again celebrate the stories of three dental hygienists who contribute so passionately to making a positive difference in other people’s lives.
Read about prior recipients of the Heart to Hands Award ...
Serving with joy
Charlene Jackson-Collins, MSPH, MSDH, RDHAP, RDH
When asked what her hobbies are, or what she does when she’s not doing service-oriented activities, Charlene Jackson-Collins pauses in thought before replying that she’s 100% involved in serving others. For Charlene, service to others is what energizes her and brings her joy. But if you think that Charlene is some kind of one-dimensional dental fanatic because of that laser focus, you’d be wrong. Her compassion encompasses several areas, not just dental, and she finds time for new and exciting experiences while performing her life’s work of service.
When I spoke with Charlene for this article, she was getting ready to leave for Egypt with the group Safari N Smiles. In addition to enjoying a cruise on the Nile River and seeing the pyramids, the group would be spending a day helping out in a children’s cancer hospital. Last year, Charlene and her son went on a dental mission to Kenya with the same group.
Charlene began her dental career as an assistant, but quickly realized that she could give more of her time and skills as a hygienist. She has practiced as a clinical hygienist for more than 20 years and holds licenses in California, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington DC, where she coaches in dental offices, helping hygienists renew their love of the profession.
In addition to coaching and working in a private practice, Charlene opened her own mobile practice in 2013, where she serves homebound patients and patients in convalescent hospitals, retirement centers, and assisted living facilities.
Charlene became an RDHAP (registered dental hygienist in alternative practice) in 2012 and earned dual master’s degrees in dental hygiene and public health. Her research on clinical dental hygienists’ experiences when returning to work after closure of dental offices due to COVID-19 was featured in the December 2022 issue of the Journal of Dental Hygiene.
A work in progress, her nonprofit “Safe Treasures,” helps survivors of domestic violence. She began this endeavor through her own dental hygiene practice, handing out “treasure bags” with oral hygiene products to patients. These treasure bags now also include shoes and clothing and are given to men, women, and children in safe houses. These “treasures” are paid for by donations and from Charlene’s personal income.
People who know Charlene can always depend on her when volunteers are needed, whether it be dental related, domestic violence related, packing lunches to hand out to people who need them, or any other worthy cause.
When speaking with Charlene, it is best to have a box of tissues nearby. I asked her to relate one of her most memorable experiences in her career. She tells the story of seeing an 80-year-old patient for the first time. Charlene’s coworkers had warned her that this woman was a tough one to work with. The patient was on oxygen, but she was still feisty, and when Charlene entered the room, the woman took one look at her and said, “Nope!”
This patient did not want to see Charlene. She wanted her previous hygienist to see her. Charlene patiently explained that the other hygienist was not available that day and that she would be taking good care of her. She spent time speaking with the patient, and finally put her at ease enough to provide the care she needed.
What Charlene didn’t know at that time was that the woman did not want to see “that colored girl.” She found this out after treating her, so she was surprised when, three months later, the patient requested to see Charlene, and not her previous white hygienist. Charlene continued to see this patient every three months, and over time they became friends. Charlene says the patient “made me feel special, and she was no longer fearful.”
I love this story because it is the perfect example of a hygienist using not only her hands to provide physical healing of oral disease, but also using her heart to bring a much more important type of healing. Charlene’s patience and kindness finally healed this patient of a lifetime of prejudice.
Charlene’s passion for helping the neediest, not only in her community but throughout the world, radiates through her words and through her personality.
Congratulations, Charlene Jackson-Collins, 2023 recipient of the Philips/RDH Heart to Hands Award!
Educating beyond the dental chair
Amanda Krompetz, BSDH, RDH
After the birth of her first child, Amanda Krompetz searched for a book to read to him that would demonstrate proper oral health care while being engaging for children. However, she couldn’t find one that she felt truly encompassed both the importance of long-term oral health and the knowledge that dental professionals provide to their youngest patients and their parents.
Unable to set aside the idea that there was a missing resource for kids, she decided to create it herself. The result was My Teeth: Top to Bottom, an interactive book that takes children and parents on a journey together to learn why and how we keep our teeth healthy.
While continuing to work as a clinical hygienist and adapting to life as a new mom, Amanda spent her free time working hard to bring her vision to life. Noticing the types of books her young child was drawn to—ones with moving parts, colorful images, and hidden objects that provided a tactile experience—she aimed to incorporate those facets in her design to make it fun and participatory.
After searching tirelessly, she found and hired a printer and freelance illustrator who were able to create what she envisioned. To provide an accurate representation of the dental field, Amanda worked side-by-side with her illustrator, emailing photos of her own operatory and hygiene instruments to ensure accuracy. She even included dental radiographic images and full tooth eruption charts.
The entire process, which Amanda describes as “stressful but fun,” took a year and a half of designing, creating, and engineering. COVID-19 put a temporary halt to the process, but finally, in January 2021, My Teeth: Top to Bottom was published, and Amanda’s dream became a reality. The first of its kind, the book is an interactive and educational children’s dental health book both written and designed by a practicing dental hygienist.
Since the publishing of the book, Amanda has been searching for new ways to implement its usefulness. She has donated books to libraries and schools in her area. Currently, she is pairing her book with supplemental materials and visiting preschools to educate the children on oral health in a way that speaks to their interests.
Amanda’s passion for motivating patients shines brightest when she is teaching prevention education and the relationship of cause and effect. She hopes to continue serving her passion by growing her outreach and building an education-centered program around—and beyond—what she has already achieved. She envisions developing an oral health curriculum for teachers and students of all ages.
In addition to her educational endeavors, Amanda enjoys working with dental offices to revamp their periodontal programs. She hopes to create a protocol that specializes in patient education and incorporates current science and appreciation of hygienists’ role as prevention specialists. As she says, “Prevention is power.”
While she is busy dreaming up her next endeavor, Amanda continues to work in a general practice and enjoys spending time with her husband and their two children, ages 5 and 2.
It has been almost five years since Amanda first had the idea for her book, and she still believes that if you have a dream, you should chase it. She knows that dental hygienists can make a difference well beyond the clinical setting, but sometimes we just need to create those opportunities ourselves.
Congratulations, Amanda Krompetz, 2023 recipient of the Philips/RDH Heart to Hands Award!
Leading and serving
Toni Meyerkord, BS, RDH
When Toni Meyerkord began her career as a dental assistant, she was not thinking about becoming a dental hygienist. She wanted to become a nurse. Fortunately for our profession, and for the lives of many outside of our profession, she was persuaded otherwise. Toni’s employer suggested dental hygiene, and her first reaction was, “I don’t want to work in people’s mouths for the rest of my life,” but she took the dentist’s suggestion to heart, did the research, and decided that perhaps she really did want to become a hygienist.
After nine years as a dental assistant, Toni became a hygienist, and has been working clinically for 22 years. In addition, she is part-time adjunct faculty at Forest Park Community College. She is an active member of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association; the Missouri Dental Hygienists’ Association, currently serving as vice president; the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health; the National Dental Hygienists’ Association; and BrownGirl, RDH. She has participated at local career fairs for high school students and is passionate about encouraging BIPOC (black, Indigenous, and people of color) students to strongly consider becoming dentists or dental hygienists to increase representation in the profession. Toni says, “As a young person, sometimes it can be hard to see yourself in a profession if you don’t see yourself represented in that profession.”
Toni is receiving the Heart to Hands Award for all of these accomplishments, but most specifically for her work with high-risk, low-income pregnant women. In 2021, she partnered with her local YWCA Head Start program and began giving presentations via Zoom to these women and staff members.
Toni states that this opportunity came about organically. As a member of the Missouri Coalition for Oral Health, she was on a Zoom meeting when she struck up a conversation with the prenatal services manager. The manager told Toni that she was working with pregnant women to educate them about their health and was in search of a dental professional to complete their program. Toni saw an opportunity to provide education to these women about oral health to supplement the information they were receiving on systemic health. She now makes presentations every six to eight weeks to different groups of women in all stages of pregnancy and even after the birth of their babies.
As part of her personal community outreach, Toni also delivers oral care supplies to the director of the program to be distributed to the women and babies. These home-care products have been generously donated, as well as purchased by Toni herself.
Before involvement in this program, Toni—like many hygienists—was experiencing burnout and sought ways to be inspired again. She says, “This give-back has been really refreshing, and even though it’s not being done for me, it is for me too.”
Through her various experiences in getting involved in the hygiene profession and in volunteer activities, Toni has learned to have dedication. She says, “It takes bravery to lead and to serve others, even if you do it alone. Fear gets smaller with every brave step you take. As women, we are our greatest advocate and our greatest enemy. Developing a ‘can do’ attitude to overcome fears or burnout can be the catalyst to leadership.”
In her spare time, Toni enjoys reading, crocheting, and running. She is also active in her church, is a graduate student at Lindenwood University, and loves connecting with family and friends.
Toni believes that every small positive thing we do to make someone else’s life better can create a huge impact on our society. She says, “Opportunities come by uniquely, and it’s important to see them.” I think many are grateful that she chose dental hygiene as her profession, where she learned to be brave and follow her giving heart.
Congratulations, Toni Meyerkord, 2023 recipient of the Philips/RDH Heart to Hands Award!
Editor's note: This article appeared in the May 2023 print edition of RDH magazine. Dental hygienists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.