by Lynn H. Slim, RDH, BSDH, MSDH
Every now and then I come across a unique individual, someone I want to know more about. On a recent trip home from Salt Lake City, I was passing time in the airport, waiting to board a plane. I had just started eating a rather unappetizing grilled chicken salad from a plastic container when I accidentally dropped the entire thing on the floor. An elderly gentleman sitting across from me looked up from under his baseball cap and offered to help. After we scooped up the mess, we started talking and he told me about his new wellness tea he calls a life elixir. He claims it's good for what ails you, and is a wonderful way to promote restoration, rejuvenation, and cellular detoxification, as well as boost energy and improve overall health. When I told him I'm a writer and my passion is preventing gum diseases, he wanted to know more. He told me his product works to cure gum diseases, too!
People are hungry for information to make them healthier. Unfortunately, they sometimes rely on Internet sources that make false claims, which can lead to false hope and unnecessary expense. As champions of oral and general health promotion, RDHs are uniquely positioned to play a large role in developing innovative health promotion programs. Several years ago, I had the privilege of meeting Mama Gums. We sat near each other at an all–day seminar, and I noticed that she was passing out one of her many books, this one called "Your Mouth Could be KILLING You!" Since I've never known a stranger, I approached Mama Gums to find out more about her.
Have you ever heard the term "oral wellness coach"? If you google it, only one person pops up. As you probably already guessed, it's Mama Gums! Sheila Wolf, RDH (www.mamagums.com), leads in an innovative way with an oral wellness model that encourages individuals to become active participants in improving their own health. This is not a new workforce model, but a different paradigm that envisions improved oral and general health for anyone by instituting positive behavioral changes and establishing healthy habits. It negates the effects of turf wars between dental hygienists and dentists. Sheila's vision is global, and she envisions a world in which body healing is a collaborative effort between many health disciplines.
I recently asked Mama Gums about individualized oral wellness coaching, which she sometimes provides in the comfort of her home office. Here's what she had to say:
"An appointment generally lasts about three hours. I start with a full medical history. My questionnaire explores the entire person. This includes diet, exercise habits, nutritional supplements, stress levels, family disease patterns, oral hygiene routines, spiritual practices, happiness levels, and other wellness variables. We talk about the systemic effects of the mouth on overall health, in particular, the vascularity of the gingiva and its intimate contact with the body's circulatory system.
"My clients then watch a short video about the microorganisms involved in dental infections, and we then study their plaque samples. I own a phase contrast microscope and the patient harvests his or her own specimens using a toothpick and rubber tip.
"We spend as long as it takes (in one case, four and a half hours) for the person to learn my simple, 10–minute–a–day, anti–infective oral hygiene protocol that includes reciprocal, hands–on instruction of tooth brushing, interproximal cleaning, and irrigation. My goal is to get clients to shift their objective from just mechanically ‘cleansing' to chemically ‘disinfecting' their mouths, with the intention of suppressing those ‘bugs' they just saw on the microscope screen. They recognize why brushing and flossing alone is often not enough for a healthy outcome.
"I listen to their concerns, answer their questions, and empower them to take responsibility for their own health and well–being. If they don't have a dentist, I explain that we work in partnership with a dentist, and I make sure they get one.
"Customizing care through oral wellness coaching can make a big difference in people's lives, and I have discovered that the personal relationships between my clients and me foster long–term health."
Just as we shop for airfares and hotels on the Internet, consumers who reach Mama Gums on her interactive Web site are often looking for information to avoid gum surgery. Sheila finds that many people are fixated on how to floss properly. She likes to educate visitors to her Web site and audiences in her community talk about the limitations of floss. She particularly enjoys pointing out how few gum bugs they can kill with a piece of string, especially when considering the periodontal pocket microflora. For interproximal disinfection, Sheila offers many alternatives, and when asked which is best, she is known to say, "The one that's best is the one you're most likely to use."
Mama Gums carries her passion about the mouth/body connection to the local community, where she gives oral health presentations. She especially enjoys educating people with diabetes or HIV, or who are immuno–compromised. "People need to understand that periodontal infections involve many toxic organisms and these bugs have constant access to the blood stream, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As long as the infection is present, it can have a devastating effect on the immune system."
Her inspiration comes from the Surgeon General's Report, Oral Health in America (May 2000), in which the Surgeon General urged oral health care professionals to take action instead of just talking the talk. His plea moved Sheila and she spent a lot of time thinking about how she could reach more people than those in her dental chair. Inspiration also came from her partner, Ian, who encouraged her to write her first book, "Pregnancy and Oral Health." After joining the San Diego Professional Coaches Alliance in San Diego three years ago, Sheila coined the name "oral wellness coach." She'll go down in history as the first one!
Unlike a modern–day dental practice, Sheila is able to offer intense one–on–one education, and her clients are especially impressed with her emphasis on whole–person health.
The magic surrounding Mama Gums' mission includes her main areas of focus that go beyond oral hygiene: healthy eating, physical activity, smoking cessation, stress management, and emotional health. According to Sheila, many dental offices don't have the time to discuss many of these issues. "People need to understand how important the mouth is to whole body health and they need to consider gum infections as diseases of the body, not just the mouth."
Creative entrepreneurs like Sheila Wolf are bringing innovative, consumer–oriented health care to the market. She's empowering people to manage their health care in her own way. Sheila predicts a future when hygienists, dentists, and medical professionals will all work together to care for the entire person's well–being.
Keep an eye on Sheila's Web site for new educational materials, and share her Web address www.mamagums.com with patients and other interested parties. She can be reached at Mama–[email protected].
About the Author
Lynne Slim, RDH, BSDH, MSDH, is an award–winning writer who has published extensively in dental and dental hygiene journals. Lynne is the CEO of Perio C Dent, a dental practice management company that specializes in the incorporation of conservative periodontal therapy into the hygiene department of dental practices. Lynne is also the owner and moderator of the periotherapist yahoo group: www.yahoogroups.com/group/periotherapist. In addition, Lynne is the editor of the Sunstar Americas e–newsletter "The GUMline." Lynne speaks on the topic of conservative periodontal therapy and other dental hygiene–related topics. She can be reached at [email protected] or www.periocdent.com.