By Christine Nathe
This month I am spotlighting two dental providers with a special relationship-mother and daughter. This duo began with the dental hygiene mother, whose daughter became a dentist. Michelle Seebinger's dental hygiene career has been an inspiring plethora of experiences. She has worked in public health, private practice, military settings, school-based health, and with special-needs persons. Maybe these experiences are part of the reason her daughter, Dr. Andrea Eicker, decided to focus on a similar path. The two now work together in community clinics that are part of the Federally Qualified Health Centers, serving in rural communities. I recently interviewed them.
Why did you decide to go into dentistry and dental hygiene?
Dr. Eicker: My mom was always a good example of balancing career and family life, and I knew I wanted to do something in the dental field.
Seebinger: I began dental assisting school in 1974, right out of high school. It sounded so glamorous! After observing office dynamics for a few weeks, I decided that while I enjoyed the diversity and glamour of dental assisting, I would much rather become a registered dental hygienist. After all, as an RDH I would get my own room! Seriously, I have never regretted my decision. Dental hygiene has been a fantastic career for me for 37 years and has spanned the areas of private practice, special needs, public health, military readiness, and school-based health centers.
How did you get into dental public health? Did you need additional education?
Dr. Eicker: I worked as a dentist for a few years before I decided that public health was the avenue I would most enjoy. I knew I wanted to do more with populations that had limited access to dental care. I took a leap of faith and changed career paths, and I haven't looked back since. I believe I was drawn to public health. I have always loved helping those who really need the help.
Seebinger: I began working in public health in the 1990s in northern New Mexico. I did not need additional education; however, I have found that the courses I take are far different than those I was interested in while working in private practice.
What are your current positions?
Dr. Eicker: I am dental director of the Checkerboard area for Presbyterian Medical Services. I'm also a clinician overseeing the dental offices in Cuba and Torreon, New Mexico.
Seebinger: I work at two school-based health center dental clinics for Presbyterian Medical Services. The clinics are in Torreon and Cuba, New Mexico.
Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you have had in your dental public health positions?
Dr. Eicker: Every day presents with a unique experiences.
Seebinger: There have been many interesting experiences through the years, but I would say that overall the most interesting experience is learning about other people's lives, culture, and more. It is truly the most rewarding work I have ever done.
What advice would you give to a practicing hygienist who is thinking of doing something different?
Dr. Eicker: Go for it!
Seebinger: Well, I have a very good friend who is a dental hygienist who thought of doing something different in the 1980s (when different did not exist for RDHs). She took a chance. She worked hard, always put the quality of care first, and has been hugely successful and extremely gratified with what she does. Do not be afraid to be ahead of your time.
Michelle Seebinger, RDH, attended the University of Hawaii for dental hygiene school. Her daughter, Andrea Eicker, DMD, graduated from Midwestern University College of Dental Medicine. It is truly an inspiration to see a family advancing dental care together! 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.