by Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH
At the RDH Under One Roof conference in Chicago in late July, eight outstanding dental hygienists were honored as they received the second annual John O. Butler/RDH 2003 Healthy Gums Healthy Life™ Award of Distinction. The eight recipients composed essays about the differences they make helping patients have healthier lives, differences they make in their community, and offered tips for improving patient compliance. They offered information about past achievements, current projects, and pioneering dreams for the future. All share a passion for the dental hygiene profession, and they offer practical and creative ways they take care of patients and themselves.
Mary Bobbett, RDH
Mary Bobbett's decision to become a hygienist was suggested by her sister, Dr. Caroline Bobbett, who is a dentist. It's truly a family affair as the sisters work together in practice. "She encouraged me to look into a dental hygiene career when I was looking for a challenge," Mary said. "I already had a great career, but needed and wanted a change after 20 years of my own business." Mary says her sister has an eagle eye, does exceptional quality work, and is fair and positive. "She keeps all of us on our toes!" Mary has been working with her sister since she graduated from the hygiene program in 1996.
Taking a patient's blood pressure is how Mary opens the door to talk about the patient's health. "Patients love having their blood pressure taken and many are surprised to have this done at the dentist. Medical matters that might have been skipped over by the patient are now being discussed."
For the past two years, the office has used a wrist cuff, which Mary says is more comfortable for the patient. If the patient has an elevated pressure, she explains why the numbers are high and encourages them to see their doctor. Mary is active in her state dental hygiene association, often holding office on the local or state level.
She donated time after the Bosnian War to assist two dentists with the dental needs of refugees in Croatia. She has also taken an active role in reaching out to people in the rural areas of Nevada. In the near future, their state association will have two vans ready to serve rural areas with a statewide sealant program of which she is a volunteer.
Suzan W. Chopik, RDH
New Lenox, Illinois
"To love what you do and feel that it matters — how could anyone be more blessed?" asks Sue Chopik, who has practiced for more than 30 years and has a license plate that reads "HYGNIST."
"I've been loved, guided and shaped by so many special people — my family, friends, teachers, doctors and teammates, patients, mentors, authors, and speakers! They have warmed my heart, and sometimes tried my soul, but they all helped make me the hygienist I am today. Only divine guidance could have brought such wonderful people across my path!"
For the past 10 years, she has practiced in a general dental office with Drs. Walter Flor and Kathy Zuccarelli.
Sue emphasizes disease prevention over disease treatment in her clinical practice. "We are so much more than gum gardeners! The mouth is a fine mirror of the health status of its owner." She takes great delight in learning and then sharing her knowledge with her patients. For example, skin cancer is one of her special interests. "I take the time to really look for suspicious areas about the head and neck," she writes. "A good catch makes us look good and leads to an appreciative patient for life!"
Sue takes great delight in promoting her profession to young people. She persuades them by explaining the personal rewards and flexibility. "Dental hygiene has been so good to me; I believe it is important to share my blessing with others. It's always nice to give time or money to a worthy cause!"
With her husband, Mike, Sue is a lifelong resident of the Chicago area.
Tammy L. Filipiak, RDH, BS
Tammy Filipiak creates excellence in her practice through patient interaction. "I think that interaction and communication with patients is key to helping them understand the importance of healthy lifestyles," she writes. "It is critically important to have patients buy in and value what you are telling them. Patients must take ownership for changing their behaviors and, as a preventive health care professional, I find my role to be a partner in their care." Tammy does this by careful review of patient health history and discussing the effects of systemic diseases on total body health.
Mosinee is a rural community of 3,000 about 100 miles west of Green Bay. Tammy has spent the past 15 years in the office of prosthodontist, Dr. David Wanserski.
Tammy manages her own personal health by running triathlons and being involved in her community. Besides volunteering countless hours at nursing homes, health fairs and local sealant projects, two particular programs are most satisfying. Special Olympics has been "especially rewarding" as she works on-site to provide mouthguards for those involved in a contact sport on the day of the event. "These athletes are especially appreciative of our efforts and inspire me by the commitment they present." She also says the school supplies program, "Fill a Backpack, Fill a Need," is another one of her favorite projects. The program benefits children who cannot afford to purchase school supplies. Her local component, along with local dental hygiene students, has been including toothbrushes as well as dental health information to participants of the program.
A 1987 graduate of North Central Technical College, Tammy is married and lives with her husband, Mark, and two children, 11-year-old Mitchell and eight-year-old Tylynn.
Michelle Hurlbutt, RDH, BS
"You really care more about my health than just my mouth." These were the words spoken to Michelle Hurlbutt by a patient when she accessed the Internet to get information for him on his recently diagnosed medical condition. That's quite a compliment, but Michelle chalks it up to another typical day's work. "I go that extra mile for my patients helping them understand how oral health can affect total health," she writes. She counsels parents on how to care for their children's teeth, has personally discovered several pre-cancerous and cancerous lesions, and is currently working on implementing a tobacco cessation program.
Currently, Michelle works two days a week in the practice of Dr. William Domb and two days a week as an educator for San Joaquin Valley College — not to mention the duties associated with being the president-elect of the California Dental Hygienists' Association. She also works part-time as a public health dental hygienist for the county. Active in national, state, and local dental hygiene associations, she has been involved with efforts to increase access to care and legislative issues important to public health dental hygiene. Even with such a busy schedule, she still finds time to volunteer for dental as well as other charity causes. "I believe in giving back to my profession and community," she writes.
Michelle credits her first employer out of hygiene school, Dr. James Demman, as having a great influence on the direction of her dental hygiene career. "He was a man before his time, a global thinker," she says. "He set the tone for the way I practice today. He taught me to always strive to be the best I could be, emphasizing that my best may be different than someone else's best. It's reaching your potential that matters most."
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, she married her high school sweetheart, Lee, and the couple have two children, Kaitlin and Matthew.
Kelli Swanson-Jaecks, RDH, BSDH
Kelli Swanson-Jaecks is "extremely excited" to be a recipient of the Butler/GUM Award of Excellence. In practice with her boss and mentor, Dr. Paul Bonar, for seven years, Kelli likes to actively engage with her patient prior to beginning treatment. "I start each appointment sitting face-to-face with my patient, asking questions, laughing, sharing a story and a smile, actively listening. By truly engaging with them I am privileged to hear their concerns, joys, and life happenings. This caring and connecting is the foundation of my practice. From it springs the trust they need in me, and the compliance I hope to get from them." Kelli writes that being a caring resource for her patients is a way to help others take responsibility for their own health.
Kelli is very involved in the Oregon Dental Hygiene Association, serving as liaison to non-member hygienists through the activities of a county study club. The liaison position was created because of Kelli's belief that, member or not, "all hygienists need to be informed of issues critical to the profession." She is also on the government relations council of the ODHA and is her component's delegate to the House of Delegates Legislative Session. She also volunteers quarterly on the Northwest Medical Teams Dental Van, which tours schools, homeless shelters, and other underserved areas.
A resident of Oregon since 1979, Kelli is an avid rower with her husband, Ron. She was in Australia in 2002 as captain of a women's rowing team competing in the World Masters Games. The games featured 25,000 athletes, which included the 2,200 rowers. The couple have two children, Keston, 17, and Brea, 15.
Deborah Krueger, RDH, BS
Salisbury, North Carolina
Debbye Krueger is a public health dental hygienist as well as a grandmother of three (Keegan, 6, Mikayla, 3, and MacKenzie, a newborn) and feels humbled that she has been singled out for this award. "I have come to know so many esteemed colleagues," she says. "I feel that many of the things I do on a day-to-day basis are derived from lessons learned from others and so accept the award on behalf of all those who have taken me under their wing and helped me through the years."
Debbye has been in dental hygiene for 32 years. Four years into her career, a tragedy occurred. "A preschooler with an infected primary tooth developed septicemia and died. It was a very profound experience for me. I was quite young myself and death was not a common thing in my life. A great mentor of mine, Dr. George Dudney, took me aside and reminded me that no disease in the history of man has ever been eradicated by a treatment program. I vowed such an experience would not happen on my watch as long as I had the knowledge and ability to prevent it."
Debbye channeled her new enthusiasm into public health. She was one of the first three public health hygienists hired in North Carolina. Later in her career, she switched to research. The research at Duke University studied periodontal disease and pre-term low birth-weight infants, involving much "on call" time. It was when she was near burnout when a former student remembered Debbye and the admonition to maintain good oral hygiene. This prompted Debbye to remember the vow she professed to prevention and brought her back to public health. She is now one of 24 certified public health dental hygienists in the state.
Debbye has been active in her community, helping to establish a pediatric dental clinic and community care clinic in her county to provide dental care to the uninsured and low income residents, as well as water fluoridation and school rinse and sealant programs.
Tracey Thompson McGonagle, RDH, BS
Encouraging patients to feel good about themselves — that's what Tracey Thompson McGonagle strives for in making a difference in her patients' lives. "Sometimes when a person doesn't have a positive self-image, it is very difficult to care about their overall health," she writes. By generously giving positive support, being a good listener and watching body language, Tracey finds something to offer as an encouragement to every patient. Knowing that oral health is related to their total well being, Tracey finds it satisfying to show patients how to reach their optimal dental care. "Everyone is unique, so everyone responds differently. Even mastering a simple task such as better and longer brushing inspires the patient to go to the next level of homecare. They see how it can make their mouth healthier and feel better."
Tracey regularly participates in two community dental projects. She performs basic dental screenings for the local Head Start program and teaches oral hygiene instruction during children's Dental Health Month to her neighborhood elementary school. "I find both of these roles to be extremely fulfilling," she adds. "I like being able to make a contribution using my professional knowledge. The difference I can make in my community also benefits me. It is a gratifying feeling to be able to give back to the public."
Early in her career, after obtaining a bachelor's degree from the University of Rhode Island, Tracey practiced in Switzerland for almost four years. The dental practice in Swampsott where she renders care is on the beach and offers a view of Boston 18 miles to the southwest. She resides in nearby Marblehead with her husband, Paul, and two children — Kathryn, 13, and Paige, 10.
Linda Mann, RDH
Linda Mann has promoted caries prevention by working for the Confederated Tribes on Grand Ronde in Oregon for the past 10 years. She switched to the Indian Health Service after feeling somewhat burned out after seven years in an area dominated by retirement communities, and she welcomed a chance to work more closely with children again.
She states that the Native American population is notorious for its high caries rate and has experienced it first-hand. "Thirty-three percent of three-to-five-year-olds have already experienced decay and it's even higher at 60 percent for six-to-eight-year-olds," she writes. Deciding to concentrate her prevention efforts on babies and toddlers, she hopes to make a difference in the future decay rate of the tribal population.
Linda uses direct mail reminders to help parents remember to bring in the child for care with the goal to capture those who are at high risk for decay. "I felt by making contact and developing relationships with these little patients (and their parents) early on, I am able to educate and build on their dental knowledge and reduce the ever present fears of going to the dentist. It is a rewarding experience to watch these little ones grow into healthy, excited dental patients who have learned how to maintain dental health. I feel like I have made a difference."
Linda is involved with her local dental hygiene component, and has participated in health fairs at low-income schools. She is also participating in her state's Early Childhood Caries Coalition, which is made up of a variety of individuals interested in reducing the caries rate in children. Linda is looking forward to being more involved with community events in the future.
A 1986 graduate from the University of Colorado Health Science Center, she has been married for 17 years to her husband, Prescott. The couple have three children: Preston, 11, Lauren, 8, and Miranda, 7.
All eight recipients of the Butler/RDH 2003 Healthy Gums, Healthy Life Award of Distinction share a passionate concern for their patients, keep a sharp eye out for health history information, and have a strong desire to share their knowledge with their community. They each have a desire to stay informed through continuing education and study clubs, as well as involvement in dental hygiene associations. As Kelli Swanson-Jaecks puts it, "Get involved and do what brings you joy! Having knowledge and being involved empowers us to see beyond the everyday and grants a bigger picture of the future."
Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH, is a frequent contributor. She is based in Clarkston, Mich.