by Cathy Hester Seckman
Meet three talented hygienists who focus their creative abilities in three different directions
The more hygienists I meet, the more fascinated I am with how diverse and complex and talented we are. I’ve recently run across three hygienists who have similar creative abilities, but went in three different directions with them.
Sherri Bush of Cleveland, Tenn., is well known in the hygiene world as Ms. Flossy, the woman who designs and sells dental-themed novelties, T-shirts, and trinkets online.
At www.dentaltz.com and www.toothfairytrinkets.com, she sells imprinted T-shirts, bumper stickers, mugs, mousepads, buttons, magnets, game cases, wallets, jewelry, key chains, business cards, and watches. Is that enough? Well, no ... she also sells clocks, teddy bears, coasters, pillows, lingerie, and aprons. All have a dental hygiene message to impart, like “Heavenly Hygienist,” or “Gentle Hygenius,” or “Flossology.” My favorite is a bumper sticker: “Got teeth? See your dental hygienist.” Sherri’s favorite slogan was suggested by a patient: “Dental Hygienists Say the ‘F’ Word a Lot (Floss).”
Sherri comes from a creative family. “My maternal grandmother has always made things and been a sewer, and she passed the skill down to her children. My mother sews and makes crafts, and I have several aunts and uncles who are creative with painting and drawing.”
In Sherri’s case, she took her love of computers, mixed it with her creative heritage, and taught herself to do graphic artwork. “I’ve never taken classes or anything, I’m just self-taught.”
It wasn’t much of a stretch for her to start designing T-shirts with a dental theme, and soon she was selling a few from her dental hygiene Web site, www.ms-flossy.com.
“A few years ago, it just took off from there,” she remembers. “Some weeks I get ideas for graphics and slogans, and I spend hours updating the sites or adding new items. In other weeks, I might not work on the sites at all.”
The income from her online stores, she says, is more or less “play money,” but sales have grown over the years, and she hopes the growth continues. “But I don’t depend on that income for my livelihood. I spend much more time working as a hygienist.”
After graduating from Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio in 1993, Sherri and her husband moved to Tennessee in 1996. She took some time off from dentistry, but found her dental home at Cleveland Dental Associates in 1997.
“I’ll be celebrating my 10-year anniversary with Ernest Oyler Sr., DMD, MAGD, and Ernie Oyler Jr., DDS, MAGD, this year. I work four days a week, and our office includes two other hygienists, four assistants, and four front-office staff. I really enjoy my co-workers — they’re like extended family. When my father died suddenly, they were right there with me. The entire team took time out of their work day and came to my father’s service. I don’t know what I would do without their continued support.
“Besides working together, we also socialize. I’m also proud to say that Donnis Wells and Pansie Dillard, my hygiene co-workers, are ADHA members with me.”
Crafting provides her with relief from the stresses of an everyday job. “It helps to express my views about dental hygiene and dentistry. Also, I love the reactions that some shoppers have to my products, ideas, and slogans.
“I get a totally different satisfaction from crafting than I do from hygiene. In crafting, I can express how hygienists feel about different issues in our profession.”
Besides dental hygiene and online selling, Sherri keeps busy as a webmaster. “My husband taught me how to design my first Web site, 10 years ago, but now I teach him stuff. Most of my computer and graphic skills are self-taught.”
In addition to her own three Web sites, she has designed and maintains five others: her office Web site at www.cleveland-dental.com, one for the Chattanooga Area Dental Hygienists’ Society at www.cadhs.org, another for the Tennessee Dental Hygienists’ Association at www.tndha.org, one for the Tennessee Academy of Dental Hygiene at www.tnacademy.net, and still another for the Tennessee Second District Dental Hygienists’ Society at www.2distdhs.org. She also occasionally assists Amy Nieves with the list-serve at www.amyrdh.com, approving messages and new members.
Debra Cavanaugh of Willoughby, Ohio, earned a degree in commercial art before she earned one in dental hygiene, so it’s natural that she would use her talents in both directions.
She works one day a week for Christopher Connell, DDS, in Lyndhurst, Ohio, and two to three days a week for Steven Petti, DDS, in Wickliffe, Ohio. Those are the hard jobs, she says, ones that she intends to retire from in a few years.
The easy job is her craft business. She makes jewelry for fun, as a hobby, and to make a little money. “Someday I’ll own a gift shop. I started with wire bracelets in silvertone and goldtone, then went into sterling silver and 14-carat gold. I also use memory wire. After that I ventured into matched sets at clients’ requests. I make pierced and clip-on earrings, necklaces, chokers, and bracelets for all ages. I can make anything — ankle bracelets, children’s earring sets, baby name bracelets with birthstones, mothers’ bracelets, golden anniversary sets, and more. I’ve also gotten a lot of requests to repair and remake heirloom jewelry.”
Besides her own head, Debra gets inspiration from bridal magazines, and from her friend, Kim Bailey, also a hygienist.
“We’re a great team,” Debra says. “She is self-taught also, and has a totally different style and technique.”
Debra uses freshwater pearls and Swarovski crystals in her designs, and also reuses elements of vintage jewelry.
“Sometimes those are the best items,” she says. “Look at your mother’s and grandmother’s junk jewelry, and you’ll find great stuff.”
Advertising and selling are hard for some crafters, but Debra dives right in and tries everything — “I’ve even sold jewelry right out of my car.”
Her wares have been sold in gift shops, at craft shows, from her home, on the Internet, and at home parties and how-to parties. Bridal jewelry parties, she says, are very popular.
“I offer a teeth whitening kit and a bridal emergency purse kit as hostess gifts, and I take Chicken Dip and Low-Fat Lemon Cake from my cookbook.” (Abracadebra’s Enchanted Gifts and Recipes from the Heart, RDH November 2003)
She advertises with business cards, flyers, and in local school programs, but believes word of mouth and referrals are the best advertisement. On her Web site, www.cavanaughbooks.com, she sells jewelry, her cookbook, gift baskets, vintage dolls, and collectibles.
Jewelry-making, crafts, and party-hosting don’t seem to have much in common with dentistry, but Debra sees an analogy.
“With both hygiene and crafting, you need to be able to use your hands. It takes a light touch, and you have to listen to what the patients’ or clients’ needs are. Maybe you need a small amount of talent, but both can be taught and learned. Dental hygiene is much harder, though. I taught an eight-year-old to make a bracelet in 10 minutes at a class at Jo-Ann Etc. Of course, she copied the design I had displayed, but she had a bracelet, all ready to go.”
Having her own business, Debra says, is wonderful. “Crafting takes me away from the reality of dentistry. It’s so neat and so different. It always amazes me what I come up with. I really love to hear feedback from people wearing my designs, using my cookbook, and making their own creations. With my own business, I can do anything and everything, and so could anyone else — just use your imagination!”
Beads and Baubles
Many hygienists know Mary Kost of Waukesha, Wisc., as the Bead-It lady.
“Yes, I am the Bead-It lady,” she laughs. “I make virtually anything that can be beaded. Although it began as a hobby, now it’s a business, and I’m the owner and designer.”
Mary sells her beaded jewelry at juried shows, and she’s been invited to sell at Big 10 colleges, as well. She has a Web site at www.beadit-wi.com.
“For proprietary reasons, only a small portion of my selection is shown online. The Web site is my least favorite part of the business, and it’s still under construction. I could benefit from some Web design classes.”
Though she has always enjoyed crafting, Mary says she has a special affinity for small things like beads and shells. “I love to make things with my hands. I enjoy the creative process. My family is afraid of my workshop, though. It is a bit overwhelming.”
It was probably that love of small, precision work that led her to dental hygiene school at Ohio State University. She graduated in 1982 with bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene and health education with expanded functions. She has completed everything except a thesis for a master’s degree in nutrition. Since moving to Wisconsin, she has also earned an anesthesia certificate.
“I knew I wanted to be a hygienist or a dentist when I was 17. I had the completed (and elusive) dental school application in my hands three times, but each time something came up with family that pushed it to the back burner. It’s the only thing I regret not doing, because I really love teeth.”
She actually still uses dental hygiene instruments in her jewelry-making work. “I use my Boley gauge for measuring beads, gemstones, and crystals, my explorer for clearing holes in the beads, and scalers for adjusting wire work, among other things. I use my loupes and light as well.”
Supplies come from all over the world. “I shop for pearls in Beijing, and I prefer to buy gemstones from Arizona, Oregon, and Washington. They’re more unique and are not traditionally found in local bead stores.”
Mary got serious about making jewelry three years ago when she came to an unfortunate parting of the ways with her dentist/employer of 15 years.
“I didn’t work in hygiene for the money,” she says now. “I loved my patients, the work I could do for them, and the ways I could meet their needs. I loved helping them improve their oral health, or getting them to stop smoking. If one method didn’t work, we tried something else. After 15 years with those patients, some of them at three-month intervals, they were like my own family. In fact, I always said that the day I got bored, or worked for the paycheck, that I’d put down my instruments and walk away. Because if youre heart wasn’t in it, and you lost the passion for what you did, it would be meaningless. I held to that for my entire dental career.
“I’d listen to new grads who said they went into dental hygiene ‘because it was good money,’ and I’d just shake my head and walk away. What kind of commitment is that? My old patients continue to e-mail, call, and write letters. They were as dedicated to our relationship as I was.”
Losing her job, Mary says, was like nothing she’d ever experienced before. “While I was still reeling from that experience, I happened to meet Joan Goldman, Lory Laughter, and Anne Guignon at UOR Chicago in 2005. That was my connection to Amy’s list, and the lister sisters. Joan provided words of wisdom, Lory offered hope, and Anne was an inspiration on how to keep going when you don’t think you can. I had experienced what it was like to be depressed for the first time in my life. Now I know how it feels.”
So Mary came home from UOR, began temping for a few select offices, and started a jewelry business. “I knew I could make it a ‘Lexus’ service, and treat clients the way you should treat them — the way I used to treat my patients. The clients get what they want, and if they are in any way dissatisfied, I make it right for them at no cost.
“I enjoy being able to serve my clients, customizing their jewelry for loved ones when it makes a meaningful difference to them. For example, I once made a rosary for a newly ordained minister. When I design a piece, I add the family’s names, their birthstones, whatever they want. It’s still a joy to make someone happy, and at least my ex-boss didn’t rob me of that.”
Outside of temp work and the jewelry business, Mary leads an active, busy life with Brian, her husband of 24 years, their children, Brian Jr., an OSU business major, and Julia, a high school senior who is thinking of a career in dentistry or radiology.
“Our son is a fourth-generation Buckeye at OSU, and if our daughter follows him, our family will have been educated there for more than 100 years. We realize that’s something special.”
Mary serves as treasurer of the Ohio State Alumni Club of Wisconsin, and as secretary of her local Homeowners Association.
She is also vice president of the Pewaukee Lake Water Ski Club, where the entire family are members. “It’s a volunteer club that performs ski shows every Thursday night from Memorial Day to Labor Day. We have costumes, music, and a new theme each year. I’m the dock diva, in charge of the ropes and orchestrating the boats and skiers. I ski, too, with my family. We build pyramids on the water, ballet lines, etc. It’s a blast. We ski for 14,000 fans per season, and the club supports ACAP Day, when we help disabled individuals learn to ski.”
Besides staying physically fit as a skier, Mary also runs in triathlons to support breast cancer research. A triathlon is a half-mile swim, a 12-mile bicycle ride, and a 3.2-mile run.
“I don’t train enough, which is completely insane. Why do I do it? Because I’m crazy. Seriously, 10 women in my subdivision have been doing this together. It’s a team-building activity for moms, it supports a great cause, and it’s really incredible to encourage one another. We have matching shirts for all the competitors, spouses, and children. It’s one of the most challenging events I’ve accomplished.
“After watching me do this for two years, my husband was motivated to complete his first triathlon. He also convinced his brother to come up from Ohio and do it with him, so apparently it’s contagious.”
And as if all that activity isn’t enough to keep Mary busy, she also directs the SHARE Program for the Pregnancy Support Connection Inc. The nonprofit organization serves teens experiencing crisis pregnancies or STD issues. She provides sexual health and relationship education to any of the 80 public and private schools in her county, as well as to parents, church groups, and community. That job opportunity, Mary says, offers her a unique ability to use both of her degrees — hygiene and health education. It’s fun, she says, to show oral STD slides and recall patient examples. While she has their attention, she reminds them to brush and floss.
“When one door closes,” Mary believes, “another opens. It’s a matter of perspective, and seeing the glass as half full. Currently, working in an environment with values and honesty is a refreshing change. But I still miss my patients and think of them often.”
About the Author
Cathy Hester Seckman, RDH, is a frequent contributor based in Calcutta, Ohio. Besides working in a pediatric dental practice, Seckman is a prolific freelance writer, a book indexer, and a speaker on dental and writing/indexing topics. She can be reached at [email protected].