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2004 Sunstar Butler GUM/RDH Healthy Gums, Healthy Life Award of Distinction

Sept. 1, 2004
A long-term commitment to the profession and communities characterize the 2004 recipients of award.

by Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH

Eight dental hygienists were the recipients of the 2004 Butler GUM®/RDH Healthy Gums, Healthy Life Award of Distinction in August. The recipients were formally recognized during a ceremony at the RDH Under on Roof Conference in Norfolk, Va. The eight winners had composed essays earlier in the year about the differences they make in helping patients enjoy the fruits of healthier lives, sharing the unique steps they take to ensure patient compliance with their treatment strategies, and how they serve their community through charitable efforts. Each one demonstrates the marvelous creativity and unbridled enthusiasm that makes dental hygiene such an exciting career.

One noticeable difference this year is that these eight fabulous ladies have 170 years combined dental hygiene experience, with an average of over 21 years in practice. Each award winner is an advocate of lifelong learning and sharing their expertise and cutting edge information with their patients.

Jane A. Balavage, RDH, BS
Dallas, Pennsylvania

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Jane Balavage says passion for the dental hygiene profession is the fuel that helps her make a difference in her patient's lives. As a 28-year, full-time veteran of dental hygiene, Jane claims to still be ignited for her favorite profession. She credits continuing education, networking within her professional organizations, conferences, and journal articles for keeping her enthusiasm high and her information on the cutting edge. This knowledge helps her craft creative and innovative approaches for obtaining and maintaining her patient's optimal health.

In her community, Jane is a motivational speaker to several local dental hygiene component organizations, as well as service as vice president of the Pennsylvania Dental Hygienists' Association. She has also served as president, trustee, and secretary of her component organization and has held several volunteer positions in community charitable health events.

Jane is an adjunct clinical faculty member of a local community college where she encourages mentoring and professional development of students. She has created and presented numerous dental health programs, mainly to Head Start and Elementary school level children. Jane has also been active in smoking cessation programs through the ADHA, the American Lung Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and is a 10-year veteran and organizer for "Adopt a Highway" litter campaign.

Nancy T. Brohawn, RDH
Newark, Delaware

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Nancy Brohawn's positive attitude pours into everything she does. She describes herself as a person who would definitely be willing to make lemonade out of any lemons life throws her way. Even with her arm broken, she was able to respond via email to several questions I tossed her way about her career. Although currently on disability leave, she has practiced dental hygiene for 32 years in the college town of Newark for the same large group practice.

To make a difference in her patients' lives, she prides herself on being her patients personal oral health-care specialist, keeping her knowledge about health up-to-date and offering advice about their total health as well as their oral health. Besides reading all the professional journals, she keeps in touch with her dental hygiene colleagues on the RDH Internet forum and attending CE courses. She keeps copies and reprints in her operatory to share with patients, as well as product samples and brochures to keep them informed.

In her community, Nancy is known to children as "Happy Tooth," a giant tooth who visits schools, day-care centers, shopping malls, and anyone who asks, spreading the spirit of good oral hygiene. This character has helped Nancy to become more active in community oral health, from planning events for children's dental health month to dental health fairs to a volunteer position in her state association on sealants.

Nancy has served two terms as a voting member of the Board of Dental Examiners and has been an ADHA alternate delegate for 2003 and 2005. She exclaimed that at a time when a typical career might be slowing down, she is just too busy to even consider it.

Nancy says her pride and joy is her 24 year old daughter, Lauren, her strongest supporter and cheerleader.

Shirley Cross, RDH, BS
Sugar Land, Texas

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Shirley Cross has enjoyed dental hygiene practice for 35 years because it brings together so many of the things she loves: meeting, listening, and communicating with people, as well as providing a valuable service.

She says, "I can't imagine a career that is more fulfilling than dental hygiene" and says she has never lost her zeal for the profession.

She has worked in Oklahoma, Texas, and Alaska. Shirley claims creating rapport with patients, treating them as the wonderful and unique people that they are, makes it easier for them to accept her home-care recommendations. Her personal motto for life is that she wants to treat each patient as she would want to be treated if she were in the chair.

Shirley Cross has a heart for the underprivileged, abused, and neglected, regularly volunteering on their behalf. As a court-appointed special advocate, she acts as a voice for abused and neglected children in the court system in Texas. She volunteers at a resale shop where the underprivileged can get clothing and food, collecting items from patients during the Christmas holidays. She also conducts Bible studies for women who are dealing with abuse and neglect, counseling them and offering them hope.

Speaking of children, Shirley says her five grandchildren are the love of her life. She and her husband, Rick, take them camping and thoroughly enjoys "loving on them." Shirley is an active member of the ADHA as well as her state and component dental hygiene associations. She feels it is vital that hygienists all work together and remain committed to our association to help influence positive goals and excellent leadership to the profession.

Roxanne S. Denny, RDH
Hastings, Nebraska

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Roxanne Denny says she is having the time of her life in her chosen profession of dental hygiene. She has been in dental hygiene for 14 years, currently working part time in a pediatric dental practice as a clinical dental hygienist and community outreach coordinator, and as a part-time clinical instructor at the Central Community College Dental Hygiene Program in Hastings, Nebraska.

Roxanne feels she makes a difference in her patients' lives through education. She writes, "I strive to positively impact their value of oral health by helping them to understand its importance."

One way she does this is as a dental hygiene educator/liaison from a child outreach project called "Sonrisa," targeting children with unmet dental needs and gives them free care. The presentations have been translated into Spanish for their large Hispanic population.

Roxanne is also involved in local Head Start and Early Head Start programs, appears on television monthly to present oral health education topics to the public, and helped create an outreach project in the pediatric dental practice where she works. She is an advisory board member of the Healthy Beginnings program of the local Mary Lanning Memorial Hospital. She also the grassroots organizer of a bite registration child identification program called "Toothprints" in the state of Nebraska.

Roxanne has been married 11 years and is the mother of three young children, a six-year-old boy and twin daughters who are three years old. She says she is very fulfilled in her profession and is looking forward to her next adventure.

Kirsten Jarvi, RDH, BS
Redwood City, California

Cultivating respectful partnerships — that's what hygienist Kirsten Jarvi says makes the difference in helping people live healthier lives.

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"I basically help people make comprehensive lifestyle changes, by offering resources whether it is a life coach, yoga classes, an exercise facility, recommending Web sites, massage therapy, or just giving them my time and listening. It is amazing what five minutes of listening can do for people's emotional well being," she writes. "By cultivating respectful partnerships with my clients, they are much more appreciative of the comprehensive compassionate care we deliver and, in turn, tend to make more responsible health choices in their lives." Kirsten has been in private practice for nine years.

In her community, Kirsten volunteers at her local American Cancer Society with their Relay for Life and Making Strides for Breast Cancer programs. She is also an advocate of ADHA , serving as part of the Ask, Advise, Refer tobacco cessation initiative. Kirsten is also a proud member of the CDHA, and reminds us all not to forget to give back to your profession because it has created so much opportunity for you!

As far as new passions in her life, Kirsten recently directed and produced a short public service announcement on the benefits of quality oral health care. Her passion for filmmaking has led her to create her own production company, Balance Productions, to create educational documentary films.

Her motto is NGUOAD ... never give up on a dream! Kirsten says, "Life is too short to let your passions pass you by."

Amy Nieves, RDH
Apopka, Florida

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Of all the distinguished winners, Amy Nieves is probably the most well known. As creator and moderator of RDH@, hundreds of dental hygiene "listers" are connected via the Web to discuss everything under the hygiene sun.

Amy says, "This group contributes to the positive improvement of our profession and overall everyday treatment of our patients. Every member of the group is an outstanding hygienist who wants to improve the profession and themselves as a healthcare provider and overall person. I have learned more from the daily interaction from this group than at any CE course I have ever attended. Information on products, new techniques, research — you name it — is shared on a daily basis."

She also hosts four sites, including the newest one, and also moderates Her contribution to dental hygiene as a whole through her Web sites has had an amazing effect in forming friendships from total strangers.

Besides being hygiene's Internet guru, she is a full time, in-the-trenches hygienist. In her practice, she regularly sees patients who have not been in a dental office for many years. She specializes in building trust and long-term relationships to help guide patients back to health.

With so much accomplished, it may come as a shock to hear Amy has been practicing only five short years. However, she held many jobs prior to her hygiene status and graduated from hygiene school at age 32. She is the mother to three teenagers and married to husband, Joe, for 18 years.

Nanette Schubert, RDH
Dix Hills, New York

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Nanette Schubert began her dental career at age 16 as a dental assistant. After 25 years of dental hygiene practice, she is a clinical hygienist part time and the office manager of a large cosmetic practice on Long Island in New York. She claims the best part of her job is patient education, making a difference in her patients' health and their outlook on their life. She feels that patients trust her because she has a special rapport developed so patients feel comfortable sharing even personal information.

She writes, "Dentistry is not just oral, it is addressing the patient as a whole." Nanette serves her community alongside her employer, Dr. Steven Stein, in "Give Kids a Smile," a program for underprivileged children and "Give Back a Smile," a program for abused women. She also is active in her school, serving in the PTA and children's bite identification program. Nanette also is a volunteer for horseback riding therapy program for the handicapped and was a parent advocate for special education students for 10 years.

She is proud to tell people what she does for a living and to share her expertise when asked about bleaching, cosmetics, or normal dental problems.

She says, "I am always happy to educate and give information that can make a difference."

Eileen Tarulis, RDH

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Don't mention the word board examination to Eileen Tarulis. As a dental hygienist for 21 years, a navy contract hygienist for the last three years as well as a military wife, she has had to take dental hygiene board examinations every time they have been moved and is a bit frustrated with the process. She says that having to re-take board examinations every time you move is a torment.

"If you've been working as a hygienist and don't have any marks against you, you should be able to go and practice anywhere, like nurses can," she says.

Even with the frustration, Eileen loves her job with the military. She has recently moved from Okinawa, Japan, to Virginia, where she works at Quantico, the FBI's headquarters.

Eileen sees a variety of patients, young and old. She treats young Marines and sailors, and aging active duty personnel and retirees, as well as spouses and children.

Eileen makes a difference in her patients' lives by warning them of the dangers of smoking and smokeless tobacco. Many enlisted personnel start using tobacco because of needing to stay awake on night duty. Eileen tells them the details of what these products are doing to their teeth, gums, and heart and lungs, urging them to stop.

Even with her multiple, frequent moves, Eileen still finds time to be involved weekly with community groups such as Boy Scouts, teaching Sunday school and the school PTO. She also fosters morale for the troops by cooking and baking for them on a monthly basis.

"It makes me feel good when junior troops look up to me like a mom and the senior troops look at me as a great wife to one of their own, and the respect they award me on a daily basis."

Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, is a frequent contributor to RDH who is based in Clarkston, Mich.

Top tips for improving patient compliance*

Jane Balavage

1.) Listen to patients about their wants and needs. Ask first what is the patient's chief complaint.
2.) Present evidence-based research and information; use the approach, "We now know ..."
3.) A photo is worth a thousand words. Let photography work for you and with you.
4.) Be honest ... with integrity
5.) Document results. What worked? What didn't?

Nancy Brohawn

1.) Simplify the instructions. Finding time to do proper oral care may be a challenge for some patients.
2.) Make myself available as their personal therapist, handing out business cards where I can be reached with questions. I also exchange email addresses.
3.) Individualize treatment for each patient. Make sure they know you really care about their oral health.
4.) Learn as much as possible. I am constantly learning and improving techniques.
5.) Energize! Being enthusiastic helps transfer that feeling to the patient.

Shirley Cross

1.) I give specific instructions, showing first what I want. Then I allow them to show me.
2.) I ask permission before disclosing any adult patient's mouth. I ask them to help find a solution.
3.) When patients have made remarkable progress, I enourage, encourage, encourage.
4.) When a patient requires a specialist, I offer to meet them at the specialist's office for the appointment.
5.) I make notes on each patient's hobbies, interests, grandchildren, school grades, etc.

Roxanne Denny

1.) Analyze your communication skills. The result is that patients will understand the value of oral health.
2.) Know your patient's learning style. Apply different teachning methods in your health education.
3.) Address any fears or negative experiences. Find ways to make the visit comfortable.
4.) Utilize different hygiene aids. Compliance can be achieved with different tools.
5.) Get feedback! Listen when conducting patient interview, so you can tailor your recommendations.

Kirsten Jarvi

1.) Create an environment that is open for communication.
2.) Keep instructions simple and respect the need to work with other tools, if they are more realistic.
3.) Always have three good jokes. It lightens things up, so we don't take ourselves too seriously.
4.) Empouer clients through education: "Flossing can make you look and feel seven years younger!"
5.) Dedicate yourself to lifelong learning. Education is a process that changes the learner.

Amy Nieves

1.) Each person who walks into your office comes with a different mindset. Learn all you can about this person before you treat them as a patient.
2.) Be respectful. Do not talk down to any patient. Educate them on their level in a fun and caring way.
3.) Start out with small recommendations that are achievable.
4.) Provide learning materials. Have brochures and dental articles from both mainstream and dental sources.
5.) Show you care! Be understanding to an individual's manner. Don't take their attitude personally.

Nanette Schubert

1.) Achieve one goal at a time. When I am teaching oral hygiene, I pick one new habit to change.
2.) I always distribute all oral hygiene tools to patients. By making these accessories available, it increases the likelihood that compliance will occur.
3.) I never make patients feel bad or quilty. Try to find out why they couldn't change and coach hem to success.
4.) Make sure you practice what you preach. I relate to patients my own difficulties with changes.
5.) Try to make sure the patient understands all instructions. An educated patient is a healthier patient.

Eileen Tarulis

1.) Treat people with respect. I find that when patients like you they want to please you.
2.) Give patients the tools that they need to maintain oral health instead of buying the materials themselves.
3.) Be interested in what is going on in their lives.
4.) Allow patients to question you and be honest with your answers.

* As a requirement for participating in the Award of Distinction, every entrant submitted "top five tips." The tips above were submitted by the 2004 recipients.