I have worked at a federally qualified health center for over 3 years. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) funds the center and we have a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) score of 16. In simpler words, no one is treating my patients but my office. There is a 6-week wait for new patients with no signs of pain or infection. We are located in urban metro Louisville and see a profoundly immigrant population. My patients need dentistry. We see active disease daily and the majority of my patients need therapeutic cleanings. We are a predominantly Medicaid office. Currently in Kentucky, Medicaid offers a somewhat comprehensive dental benefit for adults, including 2 cleanings per year, SRP 1 time per year, and basic restorative and surgical procedures. Reimbursement is awful, but seeing as though most states have no adult Medicaid benefit at all, I consider my patients fortunate. I realize this is not the typical RDH’s workplace setting, but let me just say that I love public health.
I am the component trustee of the Louisville District Dental Hygienist’s Association. Our component is the largest in our state with over 70 ADHA members. Our Facebook page has almost 600 members. Up until the past two years those hygienists were my complete network, my sounding board, my go-to for support and ideas. I would say less than ten are working in a public health setting. Two of those ten work with me at our community health center. More hygienists are moving towards public health opportunities, but the current reality is that most are working in private practice or corporate dental offices. Many in my circle could not relate to my unique experience. I had read about trailblazers in Minnesota and South Carolina and looked often to my journals for inspiration and innovation.
Then there was networking. I consider myself blessed to have had passionate faculty in my hygiene program at University of Louisville School of Dentistry. Two of my professors are past presidents of the KyDHA and all are members of the national organization. They recruited me to our local board to be a part of the leadership team. Every opportunity I have pursued was possible because of hygienists that were members of our professional organization. I have attended the national conference 3 times and met countless passionate colleagues every year. The hygienists I have met at ADHA conferences tend to be ambitious, knowledgeable, and connected. I follow the public health CE track when I attend to meet my state’s PHRDH 5 hour requirement and I always learn a ton.
2 years ago I was elected to the executive committee of Kentucky’s oral health coalition. The coalition work connected me to a larger network called OH2020. This is the oral health arm of the national Healthy People 2020 movement. I attended my first national convening of the network in September of 2016. Life. Changing.
This network was diverse in field and background. Oral Health was our major connection but everyone also shared dedication to progress. The topics were poignant, the speakers were brilliant, and the hygienists there were my favorite kind: public health. Some of them were members of our professional organization and some were not. All of them were champions for their patients. I found myself wanting to stay connected to this group. I saw opportunity for collaboration and sharing of best practices. I wish I had known hygienist A before starting my volunteer community outreach clinic. I wish I had hygienist B in my contacts before applying to my MPH program. You get the idea; this group was invaluable to me.
Insert RDH on a mission. My vision for our community is to connect us. I am here for you. You are there for me. We can discuss all things pertinent to our patient population. I invite all comments or submissions for discussion. Join the Facebook group. Email me ideas. Follow me on social media. We will not be pushing products or reviewing practice management (barf!). We will be changing the world, one oral cavity at a time, together.