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Sweet sex appeal

Dec. 1, 2010
A new approach to community outreach focuses on what patients want

A new approach to community outreach focuses on what patients want

by Diane Brucato-Thomas, RDH, EF, BS, FAADH

It is no secret that I am a fan of RDH magazine. When RDH first came to be, like many others, I was drawn to
the regular perio column written by Trisha O'Hehir, RDH, MS. Every month, I devoured her words and applied them to my practice as a periodontal therapist. I will always be indebted to RDH magazine for leading me to Trisha, who continues to shape and mold the professional that I have become. This success story is dedicated to my A-1 mentor, Trisha O'Hehir, RDH, MS, former star columnist for RDH magazine.

Recently, I received a phone call from a woman named Kaika. She had heard of me through my husband, who had visited the Dragon's Eye Community Learning Center in Pahoa, Hawaii, which she operates. Kaika called to ask if I could give a workshop on how to clean each other's teeth, since she and many of her associates could not afford to go to the dentist. Of course I told her, "Uhhhh, nooooo. For one thing, it's illegal for me to do that, and for another, I wouldn't know where to begin to condense a two- to four-year program into one day. However, I could share ways to save a lot of money through prevention of future disease."

Kaika was sold! She exclaimed that she had learned more in 45 minutes on the phone with me than she had in her lifetime of going to the dentist. I thought, "Wow! That was easy!" She scheduled me to present on a Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon. Kaika wanted to find a way to pay me, and under my present circumstances I thought that would be nice. Yet I said, "Let's just put out a calabash and tell people that if they value what they heard and they can afford to, please donate accordingly." Kaika was thrilled.

After I hung up, the title hit me and I typed it out – "The Sweet Truth: Save Your Teeth/Save Your Life!" As I began to formulate the course description and objectives, I could hear Trisha O'Hehir's voice reminding me that people value sex appeal more than health, and I planned my course accordingly. I was excited. This was stuff I talked about every day! This was stuff I knew in my sleep! This was not work; this was fun!

Diligently, I set to work, and days later I had put together about 85 slides. I was thinking I would speak for about two hours and then hold a question and answer time. My plan was to discuss bacterial biofilms, periodontal infection, systemic links, caries infection, halitosis, white teeth, and xylitol. You know, the usual. My husband was no help, insisting that no one would want to hear this stuff and I should only speak for an hour so I wouldn't bore anyone too much. I solved that problem. I banned him from the program.

The big day arrived

When the Saturday morning rolled around, I puttered down the long dirt road, where wooden signs depicting extracted teeth pointed the way to Dragon's Eye Learning Center, a large community farm in Pahoa with several simple buildings and a huge hydroponic greenhouse and pond. I made a note to myself – I must talk to Kaika about the extracted teeth on the signs, and lining the side and bottom of the fliers with my title, "…Save Your Teeth…" I kept imagining people saving their extracted teeth in their pockets. I shook the image from my mind and continued down the road.

Carrying my computer and a box filled with activity supplies and complimentary goodies, I was enthusiastically greeted by Kaika and her little one, Ili, who was quick to tell me that she used "a floss thingy that squirted water between her teeth every day!"

The classroom building where I was to speak was a large, open-air, wood frame building with half walls and a metal roof. I was grateful that the sun was shining so I would not have to compete with the sound of pounding rain. There was a wooden, white-painted, freestanding "screen," with an LCD projector mounted above in the rafters. I was provided with a stepping stool on which to set my computer. Two long, soft couches faced the screen, accompanied by a few wooden chairs. Kaika did not know how many were going to attend.

Kaika and Ili pose in front of the classroom.

As 20 enthusiastic adults showed up and settled on the couches, another couch and more chairs were carried in. I asked people why they had come. One young man was there because he had seen a dentist in our little town for a gum infection and loose teeth. The dentist pulled a tooth, "scraped the rest a little," and then told him there was nothing to do about the other loose teeth, that he would "lose them too."

An older Hawaiian man was there because he had "soft teeth and a mouth full of fillings and loose teeth." He wanted to learn how to strengthen his teeth. The man also has diabetes.

Another person, a woman, was there because her gums were receding on one side and her teeth were sensitive, so her dentist put in fillings at the gum line. Now it was happening on the other side and she wanted to know how to prevent the sensitivity.

There were also two sets of parents with five-year-olds who had early childhood caries. I had the whole gamut present for my talk. It was awesome! I could not ask for a better audience. And not a one fell asleep in his or her seat.

In fact, the more I spoke, the more they wanted to know! I kept finding myself saying, "I'm glad you asked that. We'll talk about that." We did the Eastman Periodontal Index, passed around a probe, tested saliva pH, scraped tongues and checked for halitosis, evaluated the whiteness of teeth, played with power brushes, and ate xylitol candy. It was great fun.

Four hours later, without even a break, I finally exhausted my activities and completed my slide show. Still, everyone sat there, asking questions, listening intently to answers, and they weren't even waiting to get the Continuing Education Certification Code. I couldn't believe it! These people truly wanted to be there.

Everyone was very excited! I heard from six people that they were so riveted that they could not believe four hours had gone by so quickly. Several others conveyed their deep appreciation and said how this would truly affect them and their families. Others said that now that they understood how the pieces of the puzzle fit, they finally had "the story."

Where I belong

I've found my speaking niche! It's not singing to the choir, but rather sharing in communities where I can really make a difference. It was such a blast, and I did not have to hop on three different planes to get there! One never knows when an experience will come along that will change one's life.

The funniest thing is that three different people spoke to my husband the next day at 1) the Farmers' Market, 2) the neighbor's house where he helps to milk goats, and 3) a dinner party at our house, and all told him how fantastic the program was, how much they learned, and what a gifted speaker I was. My husband turned to me and said, "Who would've guessed?" I said, "Certainly not you!" and we laughed.

One good friend of mine who attended offered one criticism – she and another man thought that, while my beginning story was good, it did not connect with my program very well. "After that, it could not have been better," she said. So I'll need to find a better story for the start of the program. I think I can do that. I plan to change the title, too.

While this was a very rewarding experience and worth the time spent creating the program, one challenge would be to receive a fee for the service of for this well-received and valuable program in the future. Kaika advertised the program in the neighborhood on fliers as "FREE! Donations welcome." The calabash brought in two $20 bills, a ten, and six ones. Not too bad, considering I did not do it for the money. This is something that I have thought about doing for a long time, but I was not convinced there would be any interest. I'm grateful that Kaika gave me the push I needed to put this together.

Now that I know there is interest, I can take it to other communities, plant seeds of sex appeal, wellness, and prevention, and hopefully build a reputation as a local prevention expert. The participants enjoyed receiving samples and a few useful gifts, and I'd love to continue that practice. I believe I might apply for the Rosie Wall Community Spirit Grant, which I think is appropriate. Hawaii has one of the highest decay rates in the country. It's time for that to change.

Thank you RDH for introducing me to Trisha O'Hehir so long ago. If you're reading this, Trisha, thank you for inspiring me for the last 30 years!

Diane Brucato-Thomas, RDH, EF, BS, FAADH, founder of Hawaii Institute for Wellness in Dentistry, specializes as a periodontal therapist, providing Regenerative Periodontal Endoscopy. Diane is active as president of the American Academy of Dental Hygiene, past president of Hawaii Dental Hygiene Association, and maintains membership in American Association of Dental Boards and Western Society of Periodontology. In 2008, Diane was honored to receive the first ADHA/Hu-Freidy Master Clinician Award and Fellowship in Periodontics from AADH. HDHA also honored her as "HDHA Dedicated Member," having twice received "HDHA Outstanding Member." She was among the first recipients of the Sunstar/RDH Award of Distinction, and the first recipient of the "ADHA Rosie Wall Community Spirit Grant." While her articles have appeared in several dental hygiene publications, she has published short stories in Chicken Soup for Soul: A Fourth Course and Love is the Best Medicine, for which her short story shared Grand Prize and was republished in Kids in the Dental Office.

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