Th 213232

The best of both worlds

June 1, 2006
“S etting New Standards in Dentistry” is part of a series of programs by Nancy Burkhart, RDH, EdD, that focus on promoting total health and wellness as part of comprehensive dental care.

“Setting New Standards in Dentistry” is part of a series of programs by Nancy Burkhart, RDH, EdD, that focus on promoting total health and wellness as part of comprehensive dental care. The series encompasses a variety of topics, from enhancing workplace relationships using MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), to improving listening and communication skills, to coping with death and bereavement, to understanding oral pathology and lichen planus. The focus of the programs is helping oneself and, as dental professionals, helping others. Her programs are primarily for dentists and hygienists, but office staff can also benefit from the concrete information on a variety of health and team-building topics.

Nancy Burkhart, RDH, EdD
Click here to enlarge image

One of her most sought-after programs is the MBTI, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator program. The MBTI has been in use since the 1950s and results in four key letters that correspond to a personality type. The MBTI helps dental teams understand their co-workers and patients. Program participants gain valuable knowledge about both their workplace and personal lives. By understanding others and themselves, dental professionals can reduce stress, realize their strengths and weaknesses, and create better interactions with others. One personality type is not better than another. The MBTI helps participants realize that working with others with different personality types compensates for one’s own weaknesses, thus increasing productivity and harmony within an organization.

Nancy has always been interested in the psychological and sociological implications of events, and she added these to the educational and patient management aspects of dentistry. She is a very hands-on presenter who loves to interact with her audiences and incorporate small group work throughout her programs. As part of the MBTI program, she invites course participants to take the Myers-Briggs test online prior to the program. She then spends time during the presentation going through group exercises about the personality types and presenting an overview of each. She gives a printout of participants’ preferences at the end of the seminar to validate what they determined about themselves. Most participants have strong indications of their major preferences by the end of the program, but not all of the “letters” may be clear to them. Nancy finds this self-assessment and reflection interesting. After completing the program, several participants comment that it clears up questions about working styles and working together as a team. It also helps them understand patient interactions and how to deal with certain types of behaviors.

Nancy is a graduate of the Bergen Community College dental hygiene program and earned a BSDH from Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Dentistry. She received a master’s degree from North Carolina State University in occupational health, followed by a doctoral degree in adult education with a focus on oral pathology. She also completed a one-year fellowship in pathology at the University of North Carolina School of Dentistry.

She has been a faculty member at several dental/dental hygiene programs and is currently at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. Nancy is also an adjunct faculty member of the Baylor Stomatology Clinic and Department of Periodontics. She teaches several courses in lifestyle changes, including one about healthy lifestyles. The courses are required for several programs, and attract students from freshmen to seniors. Nancy enjoys presenting the healthy lifestyle program since it allows her to discuss new topics that often lead to fascinating discussions. Another current project of Nancy’s is co-authoring a general and oral pathology book by Lippincott, Williams, & Wilkins Publishers to be released in 2007. She loves to write, and oral pathology has become a passion for her.

Nancy enjoys presenting her programs to small groups, which she feels allows for better intimacy and fewer inhibitions from participants. She has presented at large meetings such as the

International Association of Dental Research meetings, and although the large groups lack the informality of the smaller groups, they certainly keep her on her toes!

Another of Nancy’s passions is the Oral Lichen Planus Support Group that she started in 1997. Her doctoral dissertation was on oral lichen planus, and the support group was a natural transition for her. While conducting her doctoral research, she realized that these patients had a chronic disease, but little educational and emotional support. After completing her research and dissertation, Nancy visited the Baylor College of Dentistry, which is the current home of the support group. Along with co-host, Dr. Terry Rees, Nancy maintains the Web site and support group for people with oral lichen planus, and she receives hundreds of e-mails from all over the world every week. The site also hosts discussion sessions with experts in the field of oral lichen planus.

Her primary passion is her children, and one is still attending college. “Everything in my life beyond my children is just icing on the cake!” If she were not a hygienist or college professor, she would have combined her loves of oral pathology and psychology and become an oral pathologist or psychologist. She feels that she has been able to combine the best of both worlds.

Nancy is a current member of ADHA and was a student member in the late 1970s. She became a hygienist in 1980 and doesn’t believe the field has advanced as much as it should. Nursing has progressed more than dental hygiene during the last several decades because of the tough self-regulation standards imposed on the profession by its members. “RN” implies a person has met tough educational standards and requirements no matter what degree level the person has reached; the RN designation stands on its own. Nursing has the same tier level as dental hygiene, with some members on the associate level and others on bachelor’s and master’s levels. Although hygienists take many of the same core courses as nurses, Nancy feels that the dental hygiene profession has failed to impart the concept of autonomy, self-regulation, and positive assertiveness to its members.

A lifelong learner who believes education is the key to advancement and life satisfaction, Nancy says, “I will always be learning something new and challenging.” In 2005, Nancy participated in the Tony Robbins seminar “Unleash the Power Within,” which attracted more than 2,300 people from 30 countries. During this seminar Nancy experienced four days of fun, enlightenment, and understanding of who she is and where she wants to go. She met some interesting people and learned that people from all countries share the same feelings, fears, and desires in order to accomplish their goals.

“Power” participants were asked to firewalk, which is walking on a bed of hot coals. In life, firewalking is a metaphor that represents anything one wants to do. The ideals of not looking down, not looking back, not stopping, and just going forward are what the metaphor is all about. Nancy tries to instill the firewalking philosophy in her programs and with the dental teams she meets.

For more information on Nancy or her programs, e-mail [email protected], call (704) 849-0088, fax (704) 849-0988, or visit For information on the oral lichen planus support group, go to