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Soldiering on: New Mexico family targets better oral health for military members

June 18, 2016
ACC Health travels all over the country to take care of the oral health for military men and women.

By Christine Nathe, RDH, MS

I would like to feature another dental family. In fact, this mother-daughter duo is similar to this column's spotlight several months ago featuring another dental hygienist/dentist family duo. Ginny Berger, RDH, is a University of New Mexico (UNM) alumna who has promoted dental hygiene in the state through her involvement in the dental hygiene association and through the advocacy of her company for those in need. Her daughter, Ashlee Bower, an Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health alumna, has witnessed her mother's example and continues the family's focus by helping those most in need of dental care.

I recently had the opportunity to ask them some questions about their careers.

Nathe: Why did you decide to go into dental hygiene /dentistry?

Berger: When I was growing up, my neighbors were in the oral health profession. On one side of us was a dentist/hygienist couple, and on the other side was an oral surgeon. I first learned about floss when I was nine years old in 1963 from our neighbor dental hygienist, who taught at UNM. She was bright and I looked up to her, and she drove a cute little convertible. The health care arena was where I always felt a calling.

Bower: I've worked with ACC Health, my parents' company since I was in high school. I assisted in the nursing homes, and I fell in love with helping people who have access-to-care issues. My mom has had an expansive career in the dental field, and through her efforts, many people have received care who otherwise would not have been able to access care.

Nathe: How did you get into dental public health?

Berger: In 1990, my husband and I opened a staffing company called ACC Health, named after our three girls, Ashlee, Carly, and Caitlin. We supplied dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants to clinics and private practices throughout New Mexico. There was a great shortage of oral health professionals nationally, and we stayed very busy while raising our family and working from our home.

One of our clients was the State of New Mexico, and the state dental director at the time had a vision of the health department supplying education and privatizing the school-based dental sealant program. Since we were already supplying staff to the state program, we were an obvious solution. We ordered our equipment and became a portable health-care provider. The delivery model we used was good for patients who were not able to get to a traditional dental practice or clinic.

In 1995, military forces were needed for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they were not yet ready to serve our country. All service members are required to be orally fit, meaning they can have no conditions that might be painful in the next 12 months. We at ACC Health traveled all over the country to take care of our military men and women to ensure they could do their best without dental disease.

Bower: I began my dental career working as an assistant with ACC Health in the nursing home program. I decided to apply to Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health because of their focus on public health. The dean, Jack Dillenberg, DDS, MPH, focused on creating providers who would improve the oral health accessibility in the US.

Nathe: What are your current positions?

Berger: I am CEO of ACC Health. We provide medical and dental health care to veterans, several state National Guard units, and school health programs.

Bower: I'm the dental director with Molina Healthcare. My focus is creating a partnership with a company that provides disability examinations to our country's veterans that will decrease the wait time for these patients.

Nathe: Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you've had in your dental public health positions?

Berger: Being on the leading edge of caring for patients with barriers to care presented many interesting experiences that I never would have dreamed of having in my career. The responsibility of readying our military members' oral health is very important. We want to make sure all records are complete and that no soldier will have a toothache that forces them to travel with a convoy from their unit and put soldiers at risk.

Bower: We've seen the transformation of patients who are currently serving in the National Guard, not only improving their oral health status, but changing their disposition and job future opportunities, all from the work that we at ACC do with our military.

Nathe: What type of advice would you give to a practicing hygienist thinking of doing something different?

Berger: Be aggressive with your career, and always look for ways to fulfill your dreams. Keep the blinders off and engage, plan, and pursue any potential opportunities that look promising. I love the quote, "The harder I work, the luckier I get."

Bower: The world of public health dentistry and dental hygiene is open, and there are so many populations that are facing access-to-care issues. Keep an open mind and use your skills to create avenues that haven't been explored yet.


Once again, as dental hygienists, we have so many opportunities. We not only have the ability to influence our patients, but also our own families. These dental hygienist mothers have done just that. They both have daughters who followed their example into dental public health and who created their own paths to become dentists and further advance the public's health. RDH

CHRISTINE NATHE, RDH, MS, is director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of "Dental Public Health Research" (www.pearsonhighered.com/educator), which is in its third edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.