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From hygiene to the ... rocking chair?

May 1, 2003
In a secondary career as a furniture company co-owner, a hygienist from Maine uses her dental hygiene skills in an imaginative way that gives her life balance and excitement.

by Judith E. Sulik, RDH, MBA

Janice Gould Maxham says that for several years she followed the pattern of most dental hygienists, but with a few significant differences. A 1966 graduate of Forsyth, she worked as a dental hygienist while her husband, Dan, completed his military draft obligations. She took a five-year leave from work to raise two sons to school age, returning to dental hygiene part-time to help support the family, She ultimately moved on to a full-time job to help send her sons through college. Maxham says she took up running to postpone the aging process and to work off work-related frustrations, eventually running two Marine Corps marathons in Washington, D.C., the first at age 49.

Janice Gould Maxham at W.A. Mitchell Chairmakers Company of Maine.
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Maxham has practiced dental hygiene in Massachusetts, Maine, Kansas, New Jersey, and North Carolina. However, even with that broad exposure to different practice philosophies, she realized while working for a solo dentist in Greensboro, N.C., that dental hygiene, although satisfying at the patient level, was becoming too predictable. She says, "I was frustrated with dentists' unwillingness to keep current with dental techniques and practices, and with petty office politics." Her solution was to resign from the employer/employee world, but not from the dental hygiene profession.

Maxham wanted to remain involved in dental hygiene, but, she explains, on her terms. So, she established a corporation and worked as an independent contractor. News of her availability was spread by word of mouth, and she soon found herself busier than ever substituting for fellow hygienists for vacations, maternity leave, or personal time away from hygiene for a day, a week, or a month. She has worked for general dentists, periodontists, and pediatric dentists.

Maxham also found time during the years to be actively involved in the American Dental Hygienists Association. She served as newsletter editor, treasurer, and trustee for the North Carolina Dental Hygiene Association. She was also vice president and activities director for the Guilford (North Carolina) Component. She notes that her involvement with the association is not new — a seven-year stint in New Jersey saw her rise to the presidency of the Bergen County Chapter of Dental Hygienists.

The decision to become an independent contractor was timely. While it gave her the freedom to, as she says, "work when (she) wanted to work and the freedom to work for (whom) she wanted to work," the change in work status coincided with her husband's deliberations to invest in a glider rocker chair company in North Carolina, representing the company there and in southeast Virginia. Maxham said, "Since I'm not one to take a passive interest in something, I soon was on the road calling on retailers and selling the product when I was not substituting for a fellow hygienist." Then, around 1998, the Maxhams bought some furniture from the W.A. Mitchell Chairmakers Company of Maine.

They liked it so much that they began representing the company in the South. In 2000, the owner, Arthur Mitchell, turned 65, and he wanted to semi-retire. When the opportunity arose to purchase that company, the Maxhams seized it with enthusiasm, and their lives once again took a turn. Being natives of Maine and frequent visitors who enjoy the summer lake season and winter skiing, they moved back to Maine while retaining their North Carolina residence. Now Maxham has found another way to blend her undiminished enjoyment of practicing dental hygiene with her and her husband's determination to expand W.A. Mitchell. After initially continuing to work as a temporary hygienist in Maine, she partnered with a dentist who lets her adjust her two-day-a-week patient schedule so she can attend trade shows representing W.A. Mitchell. Maxham says, "I generally know six months ahead when a show will be, so I know when I'll be gone."

W.A. Mitchell furniture is handcrafted in Temple, Maine, by four master woodworkers. Every piece is custom-made. Arthur Mitchell remains the chief designer while Dan, whose former career was in textiles and accounting, contributes design ideas and focuses on management. Maxham describes her role in the company: "I go to the shows, make retail calls, and process deliveries. I also do some paperwork, primarily at home."

Maxham said, "We combine the best of Windsor and Shaker design to provide a special transitional look that fits any home or office style, from contemporary to country. We have two model lines, the Mitchell and the Temple. "We basically use cherry wood, and the spindles are made from ash or maple, giving the chairs a dark wood/light wood contrast. Our craftsmen use Old World joinery, mortice and tenon joints. The leg extends all the way through the seat, and it is then wedged. We also make solid wood tables of cherry, maple, and oak. Our products are expected to pass from generation to generation." She credits her dental hygiene experiences with helping her to communicate effectively and work well with people. She says, "You need to like people to be successful at dental hygiene and at selling."

She gets plenty of practice selling because she travels a lot to both retail stores and furniture shows. She recently attended the High Point International Furniture Show in North Carolina with her husband, where they made contact with new retailers who want to carry their line.

They also visit existing accounts. Their exhibit showcases the current line and introduces new items. In addition to chairs, the current line features benches, bar stools, rockers, tables, and step stools.

The entire line can be viewed at

Maxham, whose two sons' wives were expecting their first children this spring, has found a way, at age 57, to continue to use both her indirect and direct clinical dental hygiene skills in an imaginative way that gives her life balance and excitement.

Judith E. Sulik, RDH, MBA, is president of Finely Finished Press of Bridgeport, Conn., and is the publisher of No Sinks? No Counters? No Problem! 50 One-Pot Meals To Get You Through Kitchen Remodeling. She can be reached by email at [email protected].