I have always had a passion for helping people. Before I knew I wanted to be a dental hygienist, I served as the philanthropy coordinator for my college sorority, and I come from a long line of service hearts. When I finally had the opportunity to experience public health as a contracted dental hygienist with the Fort Peck Tribes in Northeastern Montana, I was sold within the first week. My friend, Crystal Spring, BSDH, RDH, LAP, and I both felt that a school-based prevention program needed to happen throughout our rural state, so we formed our nonprofit Smiles Across Montana.
My family thought I was crazy when I first started traveling. I had a 4-year-old at home and my husband was deployed serving in the United States Army! I knew in my heart that it was where I needed to be, my family realized that and helped me make it happen.
Starting a program from scratch with no business background was not an easy task. We had many late nights of figuring it out and traveled many miles from home to bring kids the preventive care they deserve. I feel so blessed because our journey has opened doors for dental hygienists, dentists, and dental assistants to provide care in their own communities. I’m proud of what we have built in our state. We have gone through some tough waters, but we have come out the other side stronger. This has shown some of those who were unsure about a program like ours that it truly can increase access to care and also help dental offices with referral programs. We want these families to be connected to a dental home, but we know in the real world many are not. We want to bridge that gap for them, making it easy to receive care that every human should be able to access.
I’m also grateful for the connections I have made along the journey. We have been so lucky to have friends who have paved the way for us and many times offered help and guidance! Staci Stout, RDH, BS, and Lancette VanGuilder, RDH, BS, mentored us through the early stages, and I consider them not only leaders but friends. Fostering those relationships and connections has aided us in taking our program to the next level.
As a mom and military spouse, traveling hundreds of miles each month might sound like a crazy combination, but I have worked hard at developing my support system to make my dreams happen. My children are learning all about access to care at a young age and I hope they continue to make their communities better with the same mindset.
Do you have a story to share? Dimensions wants to hear about you—the clinicians who perform the daily role of caring for patients and have also found an additional way to use your knowledge and skills outside of the operatory. You may be featured in a future issue. Send your story and photo to Jill Rethman, RDH, BA, at: [email protected].
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. July 2021;19(7):10.