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Sunstar Americas/RDH Award of Distinction

Sept. 1, 2008
by Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDHEight distinguished dental hygienists who go above and beyond typical dental hygiene practice were honored in early August at the RDH Under One Roof Conference in Chicago.

Eight hygienists honored during ceremonies at RDH Under One Roof

by Cathleen Terhune Alty, RDH
Eight distinguished dental hygienists who go above and beyond typical dental hygiene practice were honored in early August at the RDH Under One Roof Conference in Chicago. The award winners were each told by Sunstar Americas’ Kent Fletcher, vice president of public relations, “Thanks for all you do.” While performing dental hygiene in remarkable ways, these eight award recipients serve as mentors and role models for all of us. RDH and Sunstar Americas are proud to introduce the class of 2008 here.

Cate Grater-Nakamura, RDH
Pickering, Ontario, Canada

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“Happy Birthday” as a favorite song is a bit unusual. But Cate describes it as “a happy song because every time we sing it, we’re celebrating and honoring someone.” Well, we’d have to agree. Cate has a cheerful outlook about many things, but is especially gung-ho about the dental hygiene profession.

She writes, “The belief that I can make a positive difference in people’s lives is one of the primary reasons I’m a dental hygienist — and why I always strive to stay current and provide the best possible care for my patients. My clinical skills do not define me as a dental hygienist; my passion for the profession and my honest desire to help people help themselves are my driving forces.”

Cate likes to tell patients what’s new in dental hygiene and show them her confidence in their efforts to maintain a healthy mouth.

Cate is the first international winner of the Award of Distinction. A 1990 graduate of Seneca College in Toronto, she is presently enrolled at the University of British Columbia for dental hygiene degree completion. Cate volunteers at a long-term care home in her community and is working with a group to improve access to dental care. She also developed a program for daycare center children to learn about the importance of dental care. She is an active member of the Canadian Dental Hygiene Association (CDHA) and the ADHA, and is currently a board member of the Ontario Dental Hygiene Association (ODHA).

Favorite book:Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Hero: Her husband, Lawrence

Rhonda Radford Adams, RDH
Houston, Texas

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“A Lovely Day” is Rhonda Adams’ favorite song, which is appropriate because she has found a way to combine art with dental hygiene. “I am proud to say I’m living my dream by using art to educate about health awareness through Art Angels, a healing arts program of the non-profit cultural arts organization, The Museum of Cultural Arts Houston (MOCAH).” Rhonda was co-founder of MOCAH in 2000, and is a current director of the Art Angels program. MOCAH’s mission is “to use art and creativity as tools for social awareness and community development.” She is also writing and illustrating a series of children’s books that creatively teach about dental health. The series is titled, “The Hot S.P.I.T. Chronicles.”

A 1990 graduate of Lamar University School of Allied Health Sciences in Beaumont, Texas, her 18 years of dental hygiene practice have given her a heart for her community. She partners with community-based service organizations, hospitals, and schools to provide dental health education at school health fairs, health conferences, and other social gatherings. She writes, “An ounce of imagination is worth a pound of cure!”
Rhonda is also a wife and mother.

Favorite Book: Night Night Sleep Tight: Beware of Sticky Icky Plaque and the Sugar Bite! Rhonda’s first children’s book
Heroes:Her Mom and her Aunt Dottie

Jodie Heimbach, RDH
Howell, New Jersey

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“I Say a Little Prayer” is Jodie Heimbach’s favorite song. She writes, “My dedication does not end at the end of the work day. I think of my patients all the time. I worry about them as if they were family; they have become a part of my life just as I am a part of their lives.” If that means researching the effects of the different diseases or medications of her patients, or helping them remember their medications with the record keeper cards she distributes, she’ll do it. “The most rewarding thing for me as a dental hygienist is to see fearful patients become so comfortable and relaxed in my care that they actually look forward to their visits with me, and receive the treatment they need but were too scared to proceed with.”

Jodie graduated from Fones School of Dental Hygiene in 1977 and has practiced in general, pediatric, and periodontal offices. She is very involved in professional associations and community organizations. She is in two dental hygiene study clubs, has authored articles for RDH and RDH e-Village, is an lister, and is the current CE chair for Central New Jersey DHA.

She writes, “After 30 years in dental hygiene, I must say that I am even more passionate now than when I first became a dental hygienist. I have learned that if you love your career it shows.”

Favorite Book: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Heroes:Her parents

Lisa Higbee, RDH, BS
Pocatello, Idaho

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“Wind Beneath My Wings” is Lisa Higbee’s favorite song, which she calls “very inspirational.” Lisa inspires her patients to take charge of their health by informing them of the connections between oral health and systemic health. “It is my ethical and professional duty to inform my patients about any and every way they can make their health better,” she writes. “I expect this from my health-care providers. I wouldn’t consider denying my own patients of this vital service. My patients usually leave empowered to take charge of their health. What a rewarding benefit of my career!”

Lisa graduated from Idaho State University in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. Since then she has been busy serving her private practice patients and her community, sharing her enthusiasm for her profession. She sometimes makes home care visits for her special needs and elderly patients, and volunteers annually at “Give Kids A Smile,” a free day of dental care. Lisa was named the 2006-2007 BreathRx “Hygienist of the Year,” and was the recipient of the 2007 Idaho State University Kasiska College of Health Related Professions Distinguished Alumni Award. She is active in her state dental hygiene association and the ADHA, serving on the Ethics Committee for Region D and as a delegate and past alternate delegate.

Favorite Book:Who Moved My Cheese? by Dr. Spencer Johnson
Hero: Her husband, Chad

How do they encourage compliance?

Dental hygienists who submit a nomination for the Sunstar Americas/RDH Award of Distinction must provide five tips for improving patient compliance with oral health care recommendations. These tips are a factor in the selection of the award recipients. The tips prepared by the 2008 award recipients can be viewed online at Locate “Resource Center” on the home page and then “Download Center” to view the article.

Lisa Knapp, RDH
Lancaster, Virginia

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“What a Wonderful World” is more than just Lisa Knapp’s favorite song; it’s also her heartfelt outlook on the dental hygiene profession. Her determination to change the face of mental illness, to reach out to families, professionals, and communities with help, hope, and information is admirable, and what the Award of Distinction is all about.

Lisa received an associate’s degree in dental hygiene from Allegany Community College, Maryland in 1977, and a bachelor’s in dental hygiene from University of Maryland Dental College in Baltimore in 2003. She has been in practice for 31 years, with 20 of those years in periodontics.

Lisa is a Reiki Master, a technique that helps nervous or anxious patients relax. “I use Reiki as a healing modality for those patients who require a little more TLC. Reiki works miracles for patients facing periodontal surgery, SRPs, or simply a bad day. I believe that as a dental hygienist, being able to calm patients helps their total experience of the visit and contributes to their total well being.”

Lisa learned firsthand the complications of mental illness when her 20-year-old son, Jordan, was diagnosed four years ago. Her pain is palpable when she describes how schizophrenia took center stage.

“His life spiraled out of control and almost took the rest of the family with him. I noticed that nobody understood severe mental illness, and I noticed that his beautiful teeth began to deteriorate drastically. My quest began. I wanted to teach people about mental illness and I decided to start with my peers, so I developed a continuing education course called Severe Mental Illness and Oral Health.”

Not only has she taught this course to hygienists in Maryland and Virginia, but she also trains others to teach a 12-week course for grief-stricken caregivers of the mentally ill that concentrates on healing.

Unfortunately, Lisa’s son passed away on June 18, but she says, “I am very dedicated to this cause, even more so now to keep his loving legacy alive.”

Lisa was nominated for the award by a former recipient, Diana Corbin, RDH.

Favorite Book:Hands of Light: A Guide to Healing Through the Human Energy Field by Barbara Ann Brennan.
Hero: Her son, Jason

Tammy Keller, RDH, CDHC
Marion, Wisconsin

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“In the Arms of the Angel” is Tammy Keller’s favorite song. Many who receive her care would probably agree Tammy is like an angel because of her compassion. Tammy graduated from North Central Technical College in Wausau, Wis., in 1992, and she started off in private practice for five years. For the last 11 years, Tammy has worked as a full-time public health hygienist for the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, as well as for several community agencies.

“I have served on the Health Promotion/Disease Prevention committee, AIDS taskforce, Head Start Health Advisory, Diabetic Team workforce, and numerous other health committees.”

Young children are a main beneficiary of Tammy’s work, as she wrote and received a grant for oral health education and prevention with the use of xylitol products. She also implemented use of fluoride varnish because many children have a high tooth decay rate. Tammy also gives oral health presentations to medical, WIC, and Head Start staff annually.

“Another area of interest for me has been the high incidence of diabetes among the natives,” she writes. “I work closely with the diabetic team on the overall health and oral health education of diabetics. I believe I have made a notable impact on the oral health of the Menominee Tribal members.”

Tammy participates in many health and wellness fairs within the community, as well as offers support on setting up evidence-based oral health programs.

Favorite book: Don’t Bet Against Me by Deanna Favre
Heroes: Her husband, Paul, and son, Seth

Debbie Walker, LDH, RDH
Oceanside, California

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“Always Be My Baby” is Debbie Walker’s favorite song. Debbie recently packed up her things and left Chicago after a 30 years in the city and accepted a position to work for a government contractor. Now working as a dental hygienist for the Marine’s infantry division at Camp Pendleton, she has the privilege of caring for some of our country’s brightest and bravest young men.

“The command serves an active duty population of more than 55,000 personnel across six bases and two states,” she writes.

Her experience of moving to California and the professional commitment she made to the Marines “allowed 2007 to become the best year of my life.” Her patients “are provided with knowledge that personally fits their oral health needs. In addition, each patient is given practical choices to maximize hygiene efforts, which in turn positively impact their systemic health.”

Debbie graduated from dental hygiene school at Indiana University in 2000. Her strong work ethic extended her professional life into her personal life as she volunteered regularly for community events in Indiana and Illinois. Guided by her faith, she supports worthy causes such as the American Cancer Society and other fundraisers. Her newfound home in California will no doubt benefit from her volunteerism and charitable involvement.

Favorite Book:The Bible
Hero: Randi Drangmeister

Shirley Smith, RDHAP
Salinas, California

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“Skinamarinkidink kidink, skinamarinkido, I love you” is Shirley Smith’s favorite song, and you’re right if you guessed she’s knee-deep in childrearing. Shirley and her husband have two boys, ages 2 and 4, that keep them both on the go. A 2001 graduate of Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif., she specializes in dental hygiene care for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia who often have no access or are resistant to care. “She is going where most are unwilling with a smile on her face and an attitude of grace,” writes Noel Kelsch, RDHAP, who nominated Shirley for the award. “She touches lives that many are afraid of. She brings comfort to those who can receive comfort no place else. She is always looking for a way to end the discrepancy in oral care. Shirley Smith will never be satisfied until everyone has access to care.”

Shirley has learned that repetition is the key to working with clients with dementia. “Because of my clients’ special needs, I must make the oral hygiene steps short and simple. Most of my patients have Alzheimer’s. These people cannot remember to brush and floss. I visit them often and brush their teeth when I visit.” She created a program to educate the nursing and direct care staff about patient oral hygiene and offers in-service training as well as follow-up on individual patient needs.

Favorite Book: “Who has time to read? The last book I read was the Medicaid book. Oh yeah. I did read ‘I Stink’ to my boys the other day.”
Hero:Her mom