Thank you for joining me to talk about your career.
Absolutely. I’m happy to do it. I’m excited to learn more about, you know, kind of how you’ve gotten here and what insights you can share. Happy to share anything that I can. It’s been a long career so far and I think a little different than a lot of what hygienists have experienced and just putting myself out there has led to a lot of opportunities and I’m really thankful for.
How has your career evolved over 30 years and what were some of the unexpected turns that – came up as you went along the way?
Because I think that’s true for all of us. We all have unexpected twists and turns as we go. Absolutely, and I’ve had some big ones, I’ve had some doozies. So you know, for 30 years is a long time to be a hygienist and it is actually 30, 31 now. So, 31 years and I started off, I graduated from college like many hygienists, you know, took my boards and started off in clinical practice. I thought I would remain in clinical practice forever. I loved my patients. I loved working in the dental office. There was just something about it that it felt at home for me and but you know, life changes and I was fortunate enough to work in clinical practice for about 17 years.
So that was a long time. And after that amount of time, I began to feel myself probably what we would call burnout now. Just a little more uninspired, a little less challenged. And kind of searching for something more. I think my personality is that I always want to kind of challenge myself and not be afraid of change. So I think that’s really a key for anyone who wants to get out of clinical hygiene or who. I want to add something to their clinical practices. Don’t be afraid of change. But after about 17 years, I actually thought I needed to do something different. What does that look like? You know, what is that going to be? And I thought about selling insurance for a while. I thought about going into real estate. I thought about a lot of different things. And then one day I realized I was like, you know what? I have way too much experience. I have way too much knowledge that I’ve gained over the years. There has to be something else that I can do with a hygienist career.
And I, through the years, had built a little bit of a network in the town that I was in just through attending regular ADHD meetings and, you know, local meetings. And I had, I put the word out there to a lot of friends. Other hygienists and other dentists that I knew that, hey, I’m looking for something different. I don’t know what that looks like, but I think I want to engage differently. One day another hygienist that I worked with who was also a part-time instructor at the local university said they’ve had an opening for a full-time faculty position. I think you would be great. Why don’t you apply? And it kind of scared me. Definitely made me a little nervous, but I thought, you know, maybe this is the change that I’m looking for because it would really allow me to use my experience. And probably gained some new knowledge along the way.
So I applied and it was one of the scariest interviews ever sitting at this big table with about 10 or 12 other hygienists and dentists around me asking questions. But I did get the position and with the caveat that I would go back to school and get my master’s degree in dental hygiene. Which was great because they actually offered a program at, it was the University of Tennessee at the time so the first three years that I taught dental hygiene, I was also working toward my master’s degree and raising two children that were 9 and 10 years old and had a husband that worked as well
So it was a little bit crazy and chaotic to say the least. I don’t know if I will. I recommend that schedule for anyone. But after that time, yeah, you get through it and you learn a lot and I don’t regret it. I mean, it was, it was wonderful and it was engaging and I grew so much as a person and as an educator because I think one of the first things that I learned teaching is that it’s really difficult when you have something ingrained when you’ve done clinical hygiene for 17 years to actually go back and verbalize what you were doing to a group of students who has no idea what you’re doing. So learning to teach is a totally different ballgame than actually doing clinical hygiene and I think it makes you better in the end. But that was one of my first lessons as an educator. So after teaching at the university and I thought I would be there long term, my family decided to move halfway across the country to Dallas for an opportunity that my husband had in his industry.
Oh, off we went to Dallas, Texas. And I really didn’t know what I was going to do there, but I thought, right, exactly. Another new start. What does this look like? I know I love dental. Well, through my network in Tennessee, I knew a manager at Patterson Dental. And he said, Hey, you know, I know they have openings available. Is this something you’ve thought about? I think you would be great for this. So I applied. I thought, you know, what a great way to get connected to the dental community in the Dallas area. And I did that for a period of time of about two and a half years. Absolutely enjoyed it. Loved it. The travel was becoming a lot due to family reasons and we had two kids in high school at the time. It was a lot of being away from home. And I also really kind of missed teaching. Because I felt like that was where my heart was. I decided to stop that and someone that was in my master’s program coincidentally worked at another local university in Texas. So I had a connection there and I reached out and said, hey are you guys hiring? And she said, yeah, absolutely we are. So I started as a clinical instructor there and then about a year later one of the professors was retiring and she asked me to apply to fulfill her full-time position.
So I did and began teaching again full-time which was wonderful and really enjoyed teaching community oral health to a great several groups of students. That went through and designing projects and working with the community helping the underserved, actually writing a grant and getting mobile dental equipment that we could use in the community. So again that learning just continued and the network continued. To grow in another state. But you know what’s interesting about moving to two different states at that time. There are hygienists in Tennessee that know hygienists in Texas, and Texas in Tennessee – I think that it’s like that with every state.
We work in a small industry. In the big scheme, a lot of us know each other from all over the country. So it was great to be able to pull on some of those connections in that network to give support as I was going through these changes. I taught at Texas women’s university again for about five years and once again, my husband had another job opportunity that was in his industry. It kind of changes periodically. We decided we were moving to Colorado and that was about four and a half years ago.
I had no idea, finished out the school year teaching, didn’t really know what I was going to do when I got to Colorado. I was finishing writing a chapter in a textbook. With Christine French Beatty about community oral health and well, you know, that’ll keep me busy for a while once I get there and you know, the stress of moving that was keeping me busy too. After that I was just settling in and one day my phone rang. And it was Kip Roland. And she was a contact that I had through Shine Dental that I’d worked with at the university. She said, hey, I know you moved and I work with a company and they are looking for a KOL and someone to work with them too. Represent their dental hygiene products. Would you be interested? And I was like, well, tell me about the company first of all, but I think it would be a good fit.
So I then worked with that company for about three years. Was able to engage in speaking and editing. Education educating their sales force about dental hygiene, which is really interesting. Just, you know, a totally different group of people that we don’t think needs, you know, would think about dental hygiene education. They were super receptive. And I also attended dental shows for them. And then made another connection, which led me to where I am now. Jamie Collins, who works for Mouthwatch as I do now. And we met at a dental show and she started telling me about their goal and their mission. And I thought, you know, this really lines up with some of my passions and I might be interested in pursuing this.
So here I am a year and a little more later working for Mouthwatch Dental. That’s amazing. So it sounds. It sounds like your career really has morphed into education being the basis of it.
Mouthwatch has a couple of different branches. Mouthwatch is a manufacturer of dental cameras. That’s very well known throughout the dental industry and a lot of offices use their cameras. They also have a platform called Teladent. Which is a Teledentistry platform that is useful for dentists to connect with patients and engage with patient intake and with communication with patients. Our newest product, which is the line that I’m working for. It’s called Dentistry One. And it is an actual virtual facing dental platform that any person can go to and receive a dental consultation online.
So that is what I’m working for. What we’re building and we’re working on and developing it by also implementing oral health coaching so that we can help educate those that don’t know as much about oral health and just be the first step in that relationship. Finding a dental home or a dental network that is going to serve a person for their dental needs. That’s amazing.
It sounds like education really has become the basis of your career as time has gone on?
Absolutely. Yes. Sure. And so then, you know, you started working at universities and gained those skills and have continued to continue and that’s great. It also sounds like it really what kind of got you started outside of clinical.
If I’m a new grad thinking about how to establish a network like that, how would I, what would be some steps you would recommend, you know, because that seems to be really the pivotal thread that I saw through what you were saying, you know, as far as your progression.
Yeah. No, I’m really glad you asked that because I think I wish I would have had someone tell me this earlier in my career. I kind of worked as an isolated hygienist for several years before I realized the value of. Networking and putting myself out there, partly because I needed a change and partly because I wanted to connect with people who are doing the same thing that I did. And you find that commonality. I would say certainly now it’s different than when I first graduated. We’ve got social media engagement.
We have influence. We have a lot of different people that are out there. And I think that’s a good way to connect and to find out about what’s going on in the industry.
I also think people need to be careful because obviously not everything that’s out there is different. Of the me information or authentic information, but I think it’s a great way to start an engagement.
I really think there’s something to be said though for attending your local meetings, for attending statewide meetings. I think it’s great to seek out people that have common interests.
You know, if you have a passion for a certain topic in dental hygiene, find others that share that passion. It’s a great way to share information and it’s a great way to build.
Something beyond just a general clinical connection with someone or, or maybe that commonality isn’t even dental hygiene. Maybe you both love to ride bikes or, you know, something along those lines, but it’s, it’s gaining friendships.
It’s gaining a network. I’ve learned it is a small industry. You know, it’s growing as many are, but I see faces every day through emails, through social media networks, even getting on the RDH Connect website.
I’m familiar with some of the founders that are hygienists that they’re seeing speak or I’ve been at an event with them and it’s just really nice to see those familiar faces. So I would recommend that new grads get out there face to face with people as much as you can. I mean, I know it’s not always possible.
To do that, but when you can, it’s really important to connect with people in the industry in a meaningful way and there’s just no substitute for, you know, an online class is wonderful if you’re taking it.
And then I also think about really engaging with sometimes your salespeople, your account managers that come into your office. May know a community of things going on that you could volunteer with, which is a great way to meet other hygienists, local health fairs, oral hygiene, cancer walks.
They’re all great ways to get involved. I think that people in general benefit from feeling connected to their area and their region and their community. I think social media gives us the impression that we’re highly connected sometimes. And as you said, you know, I don’t think it gives you quite that same feeling as if you’re, you know, in person with you, you know, and I can actually shake your hand or give you a hug or like, you know, really feel your presence, you know, back at work in a way that I think it’s different on social media. So I totally agree with that. I think that’s important to just make you feel connected and general and supportive. Whether that’s right specifically through other hygienists or even just people that have similar interests, like you said, I think that’s important too.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s, you know, it’s important to maybe not just connect with the same people in your genre or all new grads connect. With new grads, you know, look for the hygienists that have some more experience because many times we’re happy to share the information that we have. Certainly, we don’t know at all and there’s probably things that new grads know that I don’t know, but it’s a great way to share information. Through different generations even what hygiene looks like to you or what it looks like to you and how can we both gain and benefit from this relationship. So kind of a mentor mentee type relationship. It’s great to establish those and sometimes that just happens naturally. When you meet someone or, you know, fall into place at an event you go to and you talk with somebody and you stay in contact. So, and I know there are formal mentor mentee type relationships through universities. That is being established and yeah, so I think those are all great ways to connect with people.
Right. It sounds like you’re saying look for formal connections such as university mentor mentees, but also just look for general connections, you know, it doesn’t sound like most of the what we would now call networking that you were doing earlier in your career doesn’t really sound like it had any particular purpose. You know, you weren’t saying I need to network in order to reach X or Y goal. You were simply just making connections with people.
That’s exactly right. It was never the intent of Oh, I need to get to a certain place. It was more like I wanted to learn about other people and what they’re doing in our industry or learn what they know and what they can share with me and what can I share with them in a kind of community.
What a great industry. That’s exactly what we were saying earlier. Yeah, yeah. And how lovely the individuals that make up the community are. Yeah, yeah. So yeah, it’s a great industry to be in and it has been a wonderful career for me to this point. When I think about you and how you develop this network, I think it really starts even further back with curiosity. You were just curious about other people. Absolutely. And other things that you could do. Yes. Whether or not it was what you don’t. What’s he doing over there? What’s he doing over there? What else can I possibly do with this? So I’ve done this and I’ve gained a lot of experience clinically. What else can I possibly do? So it’s just like it’s that curiosity that’s really gotten you to where you are now.
It truly is because like I said I was feeling a little burnt out and I thought there must be something else I can do with the knowledge and the years of experience that I’ve gained through the years. I don’t know what that looks like necessarily and I don’t think people necessarily need to know what it looks like but just knowing there are other steps there. I think you know early on in the early 2000s when I was beginning that journey, it was a little bit harder for hygienists to find something that wasn’t a clinical position. I do think that is changing. I think there are many more opportunities. With various companies, with educational institutions, even with software platforms and telehealth or teledentistry, insurance companies, different things that used to be really not heard of. And now it is becoming more of the norm for the public, especially public health opportunities, I think, have really gained traction across the U.S. So I think those are great options for anybody looking to possibly expand just their clinical knowledge or their clinical career.
Right. Definitely. That’s amazing. And I love it as a person that’s receiving the information from them. I do think there’s so much information.
As we were talking about before we started you know, that the public does need from Dental Yeah. So is that your favorite thing about, now your work with mouth watch? Is that really why you want to dedicate your time to mouth watch now? Yeah, you know, it’s funny. Yes, actually, yes, it is.
So really at the time this opportunity came along, I wasn’t necessarily looking for something. At that time I was pretty content. I think that Jamie said to me, this is a great opportunity to advance dental care into areas of underserved populations that do not have access to dental care. And that has always been a great opportunity. has been a passion of mine, especially after teaching community oral health and realizing the gap in dental care available to people to certain population groups learning the lack of education. I’ve been a passion that the general public has, not just a one on one patient basis. Yes, we can sit clinically and educate people. And that’s absolutely necessary. And we need to do that daily. But as a population group, what people don’t know about dental care or about their dental health, or about what they can do to help protect their own health. It’s absolutely amazing. So when she came to me with that opportunity to have that impact in a way that is really not thought of, well,
I mean, I guess it’s thought of through telehealth in general, but teledentistry is just kind of catching up to that. And I was just amazed. I thought this is an amazing opportunity that I may never get again. And yes, I’m going to do it.
Well, I mean, you know, it’s great to apply all your experience and education. And like you said, I mean, you kind of need some scale, you know, it’s hard to really reach, you know, the population level one on one, as much as that’s super valuable, you kind of do have to, you have to reach some scale
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. And through different programs you know, and even if it’s small group education, large group targeting education toward certain groups that we know could benefit from it. It’s just, it’s all fun and it’s all interesting to help develop these. Programs and to work with people at that level.
Right. Right. I love it. I can’t wait to check it out. Yeah. Thank you. It’s great. This is not your only interview that you’ve had recently. I hope so. So I wanted to see if you could give us a few of your takeaways from from what you shared with those publications for our audience. I know there’s quite a connection.
Absolutely. Absolutely. I am. I’m happy to share those. So, you know, a few key points, I think for pregnant women, just in general, speaking of that population, don’t underestimate the value of dental care during your pregnancy. I have heard from patients in the past, oh, I know I’m going to lose a tooth because I’m pregnant or I know I’m going to get a cavity because I’m pregnant. It’s kind of these preconceived notions. You know, and this was several years ago. But what we, I don’t even think we knew at the time the relationship between oral health and pregnancy because our hormones are changing so much during pregnancy.
It really leaves people more susceptible to dental disease. And it’s kind of the cultural belief in certain groups that, oh, I may lose a tooth during pregnancy, or I may have a cavity, or, you know, some of these things that I’ve heard and it’s like, I wonder why people believe that. I wonder where that comes in. Which is not true. You shouldn’t lose a tooth during pregnancy. And you’re right, you know, you shouldn’t get a cavity during pregnancy, but it just shows that people don’t know what they don’t know.
You know, through interviews like this, I’m able to share with people that the relationship between oral health and pregnancy is very important. And you should see the dentist when you are pregnant for routine oral care for a few reasons. Or even before you plant, you know, when you’re planning to get pregnant, just to keep your mouth as healthy as possible. To decrease the risk of getting gingivitis or periodontitis, which is basically an infection of the gums and the bone that supports the teeth, which are susceptible during pregnancy. And if we are able to educate. To educate women and give them the tools that they need to help them have the best oral health during their pregnancy.The chances of them developing these diseases are less. And it also impacts the outcome of their pregnancy. One of the things that we’re learning.
Pregnant women should be made aware that negative or poor oral health contributes to negative pregnancy outcomes. So you’re more likely to have to go into preterm labor or to have a low birth weight baby, a correlation between things that are happening in the body because of the oral diseases in the mouth. It’s a complex interdependent relationship and it’s not necessarily the only cause, but studies are showing that there can be a negative impact if someone has severe dental disease in their mouth or gum disease in their mouth.
So I think it’s important for women to realize that and to seek dental care while they are pregnant. I also think it is under-represented in the dental community in and of itself. I know when I was in dental hygiene school, we were kind of taught you only see a woman in pregnancy in the second trimester if there are absolutely no complications and everything is great. So that’s the ideal patient. Of course that’s who you want to see. What we’re learning is that really women can be treated at any phase of pregnancy. Of course they have to, their individual needs have to be taken into account and their individual health. However, the benefits.
It is great whether it’s the first, second, or third trimester of pregnancy. And the ADA has a statement that states that it is safe to obtain dental care throughout a woman’s pregnancy.
So I just think it’s really important for women to. Know that and let’s see. Another thing I think that’s important for women to know about pregnancy and oral health is that it’s kind of a cliche thing, but cavities are contagious. So what a lot of people, yeah, what a lot of people don’t know babies are actually born with a sterile mouth. They have no bacteria formed in their mouth and it’s natural for us. They will form a bacteria flora or their basis of bacteria in their mouth. We all have bacteria in our mouth. We want it to be a healthy balance of that oral microbiome. If a mother has dental disease and says she shares a spoon with her baby, she’s going to be passing those disease-causing oral bacteria.
Into her child’s mouth, which puts them at a disadvantage to start with. It may mean that they’re more likely to develop that bacteria long-term and not have a healthy balance and therefore they could be susceptible to cavities or they could be susceptible. To gum disease as they get older. So that’s another reason that a pregnant woman needs to seek dental care during pregnancy is to ensure that she’s in the best possible dental health and therefore she’s able to pass that down for her child.
That’s an amazing connection.
Yeah, yeah, it really is. I mean, and honestly, I learned a lot about this by doing these interviews. You know, we all have our, our specialties and the things that we love to investigate and I love everything done. Also, I’m always excited to learn more about this. But this was a great opportunity when I have done previous interviews about pregnancy and oral health for myself to learn about it as well and be able to communicate that information to the public.
From their standpoint, why do you think they weren’t going to the dentist? Do you think they just felt like I’m going to the doctor all the time? I’ll just leave my dental health to the side and worry about my physical health because we know that people see those two things as kind of separate, even though we know that they are not.
Yes, right, even though we know they’re interconnected. I do, I do think that is the case. I think that well, first of all, you know, pregnancy is a stressful time. Anyway, there’s a lot more doctors appointments than normal. OBGYNs should be encouraged. So we have a big job to do educating them about that, not only our patients, but other health professionals that care for people in a different way about the importance of dental health. But I do think it does get pushed to the side because there’s so many other stressors and many times women aren’t necessarily feeling good during their pregnancy. They may be nauseous, they may be gagging a little bit, it might be harder to brush their teeth than it normally is and they’re tired so it’s like, oh, just one more thing to worry about.
Also, truly, if they didn’t value dental health before becoming pregnant, I don’t know that anything would necessarily change unless they’re given information that resonates with them and it’s actually really a good time to give information because pregnant women are more susceptible to receiving that information. Because they know that they’re caring for someone else now besides themselves. So it’s an impactful time and if we can get that message to women during, you know, or right before that first trimester and they are able to seek dental care and gain education.
From their hygienist or from their dental provider and have them, you know, monitored through the pregnancy or at least checked in periodically with information, with education, checking on how they’re doing, you know, it’s, it’s really impactful. We just need to gain that.
I mean, yeah, absolutely. I had no idea that though, it makes so much sense now that you’re saying it that, you know, on one hand, a pregnant woman is very susceptible to absorbing that information because you’re in kind of a healthcare mindset.
You know that you are taking care of someone else as well. On the other hand, if I, if I didn’t really prioritize dental health before, I’m probably even at more risk of letting it slide even more during this period where I’m already going to so many appointments, I may not feel well, etc. Yes. Wow, I had never thought about that. Yeah. It’s something that they could do in addition to cleaning. If I know that, you know, I’ve had a history of cavities, and I’m getting cleanings.
What else can I do to impact my oral microbiome so I don’t pass that along? Is there anything else you recommend?
Certainly, I would say the most important thing though is to receive some professional dental care and have a cleaning because that’s going to help reduce some of those bacterial counts. You may be able to have some salivary diagnostic testing. There may be certain rinses or prebiotics that can be used to help change that flora.
Of course, it would have to be checked for safety during pregnancy with your, you know, health professional. But using things such as fluoride rinse can help or xylitol, which is another great product for some people that maybe don’t aren’t as crazy about fluoride. Some xylitol containing products. Help to change the bacterial flora of the mouth and to a more positive, more healthy environment for that woman.
So yeah, there are things they can do. And then also really just the basics that we say all the time, brushing and cleaning between your teeth.
To keep the mouth as clean as possible, at least twice a day and doing those kinds of things are going to help keep the oral microbiome in a healthier state than oral health is neglected or not really paid attention to throughout the pregnancy.
It’s like, that’s the interior surface of your teeth, you know, you need to remove all that plaque and bacteria.
Yeah, it’s about 40% of the tooth surfaces that are reached by flossing or in and you know, I think something I’ve learned through my years of dental hygiene. Most people don’t floss. They, I had a patient that told me once, I almost floss almost every day. I would have said that pretty much exact same thing.
Right, right. I almost, and I’m like, so does that mean you’re flossing? I almost floss. I think about it almost every day. I was like, okay, that’s not really going to win us any good oral health things here. But the good thing about that is that we are definitely learning. There are other ways to clean between the teeth besides flossing. Water flossing is a great addition. It’s not a complete substitute.
We do need something that scrapes along the side of our teeth to remove that plaque and up into the gum line. But in our dental brushes, they make them so tiny and small. Now, many times it’s much easier for a person to work with that or pick. So I think all of those things, in addition to brushing, whether it’s, you know, an interdental cleaner, interdental pick, interdental. Brush, water flossing using a decent oral rinse that may be, especially when you’re pregnant, may be containing some fluoride not swallowing it, only rinse in and expect rating with it.
I think those are all good ways to keep the mouth clean and, you know, from telling people or trying to educate them and give them the benefits of flossing for so many years in clinical hygiene practice and throughout my teaching career working in the clinic. It’s really hard to change a habit like that. When we make things easier for people to achieve. Adopt, they’re more likely to adopt it.
So, you know, a lot of times we would say, start by flossing once or twice a week, or start by using those interdental brushes once or twice a week, or certainly if you know you have something caught between your teeth.
And then you start to feel a little, you feel a difference, and then you want to do it more. And then you work up to two or three times a week, or three or four times a week. Certainly anything is better than nothing. So, exactly. behavior change. And as we were talking about before, it’s small bites.
It’s small little things you implement one change at a time. When you incorporate that as part of your normal behavior, then it’s time to make another change. So, it’s the baby steps to make the behavior change.
I think opening people up to the idea that there are easier ways to floss, you know, like, I would consider string floss easy personally.
I find it quite hard just from a, It is. It’s a very different standpoint. I just, it’s like I can’t really just do it. 35:48 I don’t know. So just understanding all those different tools that you mentioned.
Yes. Because flossing, you’re wrapping it around different fingers and your mouth. I’ll see you next time. And people aren’t always using the right finger to wrap it around and they don’t know they maybe have never been shown. And then you have to think you’re looking in a mirror. Most times everything is backward and you’re, you know, trying to get in there is like,
Oh, which, which way do I go? And for a lot of people, I mean, for dental hygienists, it kind of comes second nature because we were trained with indirect vision, with working with mirrors, things like that.
But for the typical lay person that doesn’t do that every day, it can be pretty difficult. So anything that we have to make that cleaning process easier, I think is great. And if people are going to a. Adopt it. Sure. Ideally, it would be great if everyone flossed their teeth every day. That would be perfect. But we know we don’t live in a perfect world. So we just want them to adopt something that’s going to work for them and it’s going to make a difference in their oral health.
Well, and like you said, once the ball gets rolling, it stays rolling. Well, I appreciate you taking us through that. I appreciate you telling us about your background. It was so great. To learn about that and I really feel like, you know, I learned a lot about really the impetus of how you got. To where you are now, which really is that curiosity and that just, you know, genuine interest in connecting with people.
Absolutely. Yes. I really enjoy working with other hygienists and meeting other hygienists and knowing them. And you know, I’m privileged – it’s a wonderful place to be in this career. I totally agree. Thank you so much, Erin.
It was great meeting with you today. Thank you so much.