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Investigating oral pathology: Sherri Lukes' courses sharpen investigative skills

July 1, 2017
Ann-Marie DePalma, RDH, profiles seminars conducted by Sherri Lukes, RDH, about oral pathology.

By Ann-Marie DePalma, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH

In television dramas such as CSI, the investigators use clues and information to solve crimes. Although dental hygienists don’t solve crimes, they are truly investigators with patients on the front lines of intra- and extraoral exams, providing the dentist with vital information about the patient’s oral and systemic health. An astute hygienist with a keen eye for oral abnormalities can differentiate a practice and save lives while being more than “just the cleaning lady!”

Sherri Lukes

Sherri Lukes, RDH, MS, FAADH has developed a program on oral pathology that provides hygienists with the skills needed to become astute investigators of the oral environment. Having been a professor at Southern Illinois University for over 25 years, Sherri has accumulated her own library of cases and images that don’t breach copyright restrictions and can’t be found anywhere else, including cases from her dental mission work in central Mexico. Her programs “What Are We Really Looking For? Oral Pathology Cases and Concepts” and “Oral Pathology and the Assessment Process: It’s Risky Business” review oral pathology fundamentals and categories along with diagnostic criteria.

Both courses provide excellent updates for seasoned hygienists and dentists as well as a relevant review for new graduates. Sherri uses her programs to guide dental professionals to advance their roles in oral pathology and explains how to discuss issues or concerns with patients and how to arrive at a differential diagnosis. She has incorporated a video of oral cancer survivor Eva Grayzel. The video was produced specifically for her programs. Sherri also incorporates a lot of personal stories within her presentations, especially about her parents, which makes the programs all the more meaningful.

Sherri has taught oral pathology for years and it has been one of her favorite areas of dentistry. As a result of her background, she has connected with Straumann and presents programs for the company on implants and regeneration along with oral pathology. She includes handouts for her programs but actually is not a fan of handouts. She provides them since many groups request them and participants expect them. She is very protective of the intellectual property of her images and presentations and finds handouts not to be very useful for continuing education presentations.

For over 25 years, Sherri has been a dental hygiene educator. She has been a faculty member and researcher at Southern Illinois University’s dental hygiene program. She loves teaching and empowering hygienists to be the best they can be. As a full-time tenured faculty member, she was required to do research. That has helped her both as an educator and a speaker.

Her passions in life include her husband of 35 years, her two adult children, and her first grandchild! Combining her faith and dental knowledge has allowed her to participate in dental mission trips to central Mexico, where she provides care in remote villages and in an orphanage. She enjoys gardening and finds it exhilarating to dig in the dirt and watch things grow before appreciating their beauty or enjoying their flavor.

Sherri had originally wanted to be a physician when she was in junior high but became a hygienist by chance. She loved science and had enrolled in college as an undeclared biology major. After realizing there weren’t that many jobs in biology other than teaching high school biology, she began researching careers that utilized a science background and that lead her to health careers and, ultimately, dental hygiene.

She began her research career even before she knew she was a researcher! If she were not a hygienist, she would be a physician assistant or nurse practitioner since she enjoys working with patients and feels there are more opportunities with a greater diversity of clinical skills in those areas. She describes herself as driven, honest, and thankful.

Sherri is an ADHA member and was the 2015 Illinois Dental Hygienists’ Association president. She was also the student advisor at SIU for years. She is most concerned about the “oppression” of hygienists by organized dentistry and believes that hygiene is the most underutilized healthcare profession. She is very much in favor of the mid-level practitioner but is dismayed by how long the process takes to advance the profession.

In addition to oral pathology, Sherri taught public health classes and is very concerned about providing care to the underserved populations. She enjoys being able to share her passion for dental hygiene, oral pathology, cultural competence, and elder care with her audiences. Since she lives two hours from a major airport, Sherri finds the difficulties associated with travel as a continuing education speaker taxing.

Seeing the “lightbulb moment” in students or participants is the highlight of Sherri’s career. Knowing that she has made a difference in a student’s education is one of the most rewarding experiences for her. She wishes she had pursued a Ph.D., but it wasn’t encouraged at SIU and the time was never right in her life.

Sherri is humbled and thankful for the opportunities that dental hygiene has provided her. When she is on the podium she never presents the “I’m all that” image. She is a hygienist, as is her audience. She enjoys using her education and experiences to help other clinicians be the best that they can be while providing the best for the patient. Utilizing the investigative skills Sherri provides in her programs allows dental professionals to provide the best care possible for patients while enhancing their own expertise.

For more information on Sherri or her programs contact her at [email protected].

Course objectives for the “Oral Pathology Cases and Concepts” course include:

  • Explain the etiology of various oral pathologic conditions
  • Describe the clinical appearance of various oral pathologic conditions
  • List treatment options for various pathologic conditions
  • Explain the importance of using current oral pathology knowledge when conducting intra- and extraoral exams
  • Compare and contrast lesions in a differential diagnosis for pathological conditions
  • Describe oral symptoms associated with various systemic conditions

Course objectives for the “Risky Business” presentation include:

  • Explain the assessment process as it relates to oral lesion detection
  • List the descriptors for pathologic lesions used in the assessment process
  • Describe specific lesions that correspond to specific descriptors
  • Discuss the possible conditions in a differential diagnosis
  • Differentiate oral cancer lesions from similar appearing lesions
  • Demonstrate an oral cancer screening with screening devices

Thought for the month: “Indulge your passion for science...but let your science be human…” - David Hume RDH

ANN-MARIE C. DEPALMA, RDH, MEd, FADIA, FAADH, is the 2017 recipient of the Esther M. Wilkins Distinguished Alumni Award of the Forsyth School for Dental Hygiene/Massachusetts College of Pharmacy. She is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene and the Association of Dental Implant Auxiliaries, as well as a continuous member of ADHA. She presents continuing education programs for dental team members on a variety of topics. Ann-Marie has authored chapters in several texts for dental hygiene. She can be reached at [email protected].