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A change for New Hampshire hygienist leads her to develops public health programs

Nov. 1, 2017
Christine Nathe, RDH, profiles a New Hampshire dental hygienist who has been active in developing public health programs in the state.

Dental hygieneChristine Nathe

Dental hygienists have more career opportunities than ever in public health. Cindy Bishop has developed an amazing program and is still developing more. Her accomplishments showcase what a dental hygienist is capable of creating!

She graduated from New Hampshire Technical Institute with an associate’s degree and Granite State College with a bachelor’s degree. She used these degrees to help advance dental hygiene while serving those most in need. Recently, I asked Cindy some questions about her career.

Why did you decide to go into dental hygiene?

My decision was initially based on the amount of time it would take me to receive my degree and the location of the school. I had worked in a dental office in my early twenties, but never entertained the idea of dental hygiene. Once I decided to return to college, when my daughters were 12 and 9, I started researching different areas of study. After high school I had entered college to study elementary education. I married and started a family, so I did not finish at the time. I always knew I would return to finish my degree.

That being said, I did not feel I had the time, while raising a family, to finish the teaching degree, so I researched other areas of study. It was then that I came across dental hygiene. It took three years, two of which were full time, to complete my associate’s in dental hygiene. I was then 35. Eight years ago I again returned to college and earned my bachelor’s.

How did you get into dental public health? Did you need additional education?

When I applied for my current position, which I have held for 15 years, there was no specific certification in New Hampshire needed. I had already been in private practice for 11 years so I had experience under my belt. The school-based dental program position I applied for was new to me. Since I have had an interest in working with children throughout my life, this seemed a good fit.

During the last five years, New Hampshire established a certified public health dental hygiene license that allows those of us with this certification to place interim therapeutic restorations (or glass ionomer sealants) under general supervision. This has been a major step in our ability to help children who otherwise would not get to a dental office for one reason or another.

There is a program now in place in the state of New Hampshire for any dental hygienist who is interested in working in public health. The track requires eight courses in order to attain certification.

What is your current position?

Currently, I am dental coordinator for Seacoast Healthy Grins school-based program, which is administered through Families First, a federally qualified health center (FQHC). Over the years I have expanded this program as well as created new programs, all pertaining to oral health, of course!

When I started there were three elementary schools and three preschools on my roster. Today, there are 13 schools that I bring the program to, serving over 1,900 children. Additionally, since 2008, I run the early childhood dental program at Families First where we see all children in our well child program from ages six months to three years of age.

Educating the parents is the key to keeping our children’s oral health in check. While working at Families First, I am the oral health educator bringing dental health presentations to our family programs as well.

My organization recently received a grant to bring oral health services into nursing homes so that is where my energy has been for the last month. We have been meeting with the nursing home CEOs and learning about how we will implement a program to meet the needs of the residents in the home. This is a very exciting move for those of us in public health! We hope to expand services to all those who cannot otherwise access dental care in a private practice.

Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you have had in your dental public health position?

There have been so many interesting experiences because, as you know, working with children brings so many great outcomes! Most recently, since January 2017, school-based programs have been in the news. New Hampshire Public Radio did a segment on my program highlighting the education and dental screening part. Subsequently, NH Chronicle, a local TV magazine, called to tape another day in the life of a school-based dental hygienist. Then, NH Magazine’s editor contacted me to interview for an article to include in the August issue alongside the “Top Dentists for 2017.”

I have received the education award from our Rotary Club (2013) as well as being awarded the RDH of the Year (2017) from the New Hampshire Dental Society. Last summer, I was appointed the dental hygiene liaison in the state for the National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness. Overall, it has been a very interesting year!

What type of advice would you give to a practicing hygienist that is thinking of doing something different?

I would encourage all dental hygienists to become involved in the state’s dental hygiene association. There is so much to be learned when one becomes involved with their professional association. This is the key to learning about what is going on in your state and who to contact.

Cindy Bishop has the entrepreneurial spirit that many dental hygienists possess. Dental hygienists have the ability to impact so many lives and it behooves the profession to continue focusing on increasing dental care for all of the population. The programs she developed and will continue to develop will advance the profession for years to come.

CHRISTINE NATHE, RDH, MS, is director at the University of New Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque, N.M. She is also the author of “Dental Public Health Research” (www.pearsonhighered.com/educator), which is in its fourth edition with Pearson. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.