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Hygiene Leader

Jan. 1, 2009
Filipiak helps leads Midwest Dental's dental hygiene teams
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Filipiak helps leads Midwest Dental's dental hygiene teams

by Judith E. Sulik, RDH, MBA

Tammy Filipiak's enthusiasm for her job and the importance of comprehensive dental hygiene care is contagious. Her exuberance for a profession she entered more than 20 years ago is as strong today as it was the day she entered the dental hygiene program at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, Wis. She completed her bachelor's degree in business in 2002 at Upper Iowa University, and is currently studying for a master's in organizational leadership and quality at Marian University in Wisconsin, with graduation slated for 2009.

Today she has parlayed her education, the 16 years she practiced dental hygiene for a prosthodontist, her experience in general dentistry, and her experience as a part-time hygiene educator for Ora Pharma into a unique position as the first director of dental hygiene for Midwest Dental, a dental management company with dental offices in Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota.

“Patients who choose Midwest Dental will find a comfortable family atmosphere where they receive personalized care integrated with current technologies and patient care strategies,” she said. “In addition, each practice takes on the personality of the doctors in the office, which contributes to positive patient experiences.”

Midwest Dental began in 1968 with a single office in Wisconsin. By 1983, when Midwest Dental's CEO, Dr. Jeffrey Moos, joined the group, it had grown to nine offices. In 1996, the practice, which had increased to 22 offices, was sold to Monarch Dental, a national corporation. Moos and his partners purchased the company back from Monarch Dental in 2001 and embarked on an expansion that brings the total number of offices to 60, and it's still growing. They are members of the American Academy of Group Dental Practices and the Dental Group Practice Association. They were founding members of the latter.

While each office operates like an independent practice, all of the staff and dentists are employees of Midwest Dental. Filipiak, a past president and former executive director of the Wisconsin Dental Hygienists' Association, is part of the Midwest Dental clinical team. She explained that she works to communicate, train, and implement current dental hygiene practices and procedures.

“This position allows us to emphasize the hygienists' portion of patient care,” she said. “Our goal is to form dentist-dental hygienist partnerships so we can provide the best care for each patient. I think what makes Midwest Dental unique is that our primary focus is always patient care. When I began working chairside in 1987, the focus on diagnosis and treatment of periodontal disease was much less. I'd see a certain number of patients each day and it seems now that we ‘watched' more disease than we do today, and back then patients were often referred for a specialist's care. Now, we treat dental disease when the first signs occur, and this applies to both periodontal disease and caries. At Midwest Dental, the hygienists are part of the team and work with the dentists to put together a concrete treatment plan. We look at the whole patient systemically when the dentist and dental hygienist develop the treatment plan. The entire staff is educated about systemic aspects of care.”

Filipiak's position is fluid. Her role is to provide support and guidance where needed. She sees herself working for each practice to help bring it what it needs.

“When research is needed, for example, about remineralization, I get it,” she said. “When a new hygienist is hired, we spend time together in the clinic as needed. This familiarizes him or her with our practices and treatment protocols. Perhaps I can demonstrate advanced instrumentation or use of technology that is in the practice.”

As a member of the clinical team, she also helps with implementation of practice protocols and new programs. She explained, “We developed a Dental Home program last year that stressed the importance of early childhood visits before age one, and educating the entire family about any concerns and good dental practices. We call this anticipatory guidance. For instance, if a mother brings in her seven-year-old child for a prophy, and she has her 18-month-old child with her, the hygienist might discuss the importance of early childhood exams and prepare the family for a lap exam with the dentist for the younger child. This is also a good time for the hygienist to talk to the mother about bottle caries and thumb sucking.

“At Midwest Dental, protocols exist for assessing caries risk and remineralization, periodontal risk assessment, and radiographic review guidelines,” she continued. “All of these processes make it easier to take care of patients. We also review new products and choose the ones that satisfy our needs. We strive to be on the leading edge when it comes to implementing new techniques and treatment strategies, but our decisions are based on research, not trends. Midwest Dental has a doctors' advisory board that gives feedback on protocols and products, and we have internal OSHA training and standard operating procedures. Offices receive additional support through the Midwest Dental Support Center, where services range from supplies and ordering to operational, marketing, and IT support.

“Experienced hygienists and dentists act as mentors for new graduates because sometimes the transition from school to a practice environment can be overwhelming,” Filipiak said. “Advice can include clinical techniques as well as how to respond and communicate with patients.”

Filipiak is enthusiastic about new regional dental hygiene study clubs that have been facilitated by Midwest Dental hygienists. One recent topic was prevention caries risk assessment and therapies that are available for in-office and home care.

She sums up why she enjoys her job so much: “We all love dentistry and want to take care of our patients. The emphasis is always on comprehensive care; we strive to do the right things with every patient, every time, and recognize each patient's individual needs, and that's very rewarding.”

About the Author

Judith E. Sulik, RDH, MBA, is president of Finally Finished Press of Middleton, Wis. She recently published a cookbook based on Madison, Wisconsin-area restaurants. For details, contact her by e-mail at [email protected].