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Q&A: Donna Grzegorek, RDH

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1.    How long have you been a dental hygienist? What is your formal educational background?
I have been a full time practicing dental hygienist for 32 years. I attended William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, IL for my dental hygiene education. Following my tenure at Harper College I attended Augustana College in the Quad Cities to study Speech Pathology. I then attended several programs in various parts of the country to study Myofunctional Therapy.

2.     What factors were important to you when you decided to pursue dental hygiene as a career?
I began my career in dentistry at the early age of 14. At that young age I was mentored, tutored, and trained to perform advanced chairside procedures. Patients and parents inquired about my formal education as I was merely a teenager. My desire to go to hygiene school was fostered by the need to have a license that vetted me to work independently at the chair. I also recognized that I wanted to be a healthcare provider and enjoyed the educational aspect of the clinician/patient relationship. Dental hygiene was a natural evolution.

3.     I know you are involved in a lot of non-chairside professional activities. What are they and why did you decide to expand your career outside the operatory?
I am a very passionate and enthusiastic hygienist! My ultimate love is educating and motivating my patients to better overall health through meticulous oral healthcare. That stated, I wanted to experience all that dentistry had to offer. Twenty-five years into my career, I decided to expand my professional horizons outside of the clinical arena. While practicing full time clinical hygiene, I committed to an additional 20-30 hours to my work week, honed my non-clinical skills, and experienced speaking, writing, publishing, consulting, mentoring, and becoming a key opinion leader to 5 corporate conglomerates. I love it all!

4.    How would you characterize the current state of caries diagnostics and treatment? What particular protocols are you most excited about?
In speaking with colleagues at various dental meetings it disappoints me to see how many dental professionals are still diagnosing caries with visual inspection, traditional radiographs, and an explorer. In spite of the myriad of literature that discusses how explorers may present incomplete or inaccurate data and may actually break an intact surface layer; dental professionals continue to perform examinations using the time-tested tool, namely the explorer. I would love to see dentistry take caries management to the next level and embrace the non-invasive imaging products that preserve tooth enamel and detect tooth decay in the early stages. Wouldn't it be great if all non-cavitated lesions were identified early so that they could be managed by nonsurgical methods?

I am excited about Caries Management By Risk Assessment (CAMBRA) as well as the utilization of non-invasive imaging products that detect tooth decay by measuring increased light-induced fluorescence.

I introduced the Spectra caries detection instrument to my patients 2 1/2 years ago. Spectra works like Doppler radar to discover caries earlier. My patients love Spectra as it provides a numerical and color indicator that precisely indicates the extent of the decay. Treatment options become very clear to my patients and that saves time in the hygiene operatory. An added benefit to using Spectra is the ability to verify that all caries have been removed during the restorative phase. There is no more "watching" potential caries. It becomes very clear with Spectra's parameters when to remineralize and when to repair. I couldn?t work without it!

5.    What have been the highlights of your dental hygiene career?
I have been so fortunate to have chosen a career path that has been incredibly fulfilling each year over three decades. I am grateful for the peer supported national dental hygiene recognitions that I have received, and more recently the honor of being named Distinguished Alumna 2011 from Harper College. I am most appreciative, however, for the unique opportunity I have as a dental hygienist to positively affect the oral health and systemic health of each of my patients. As a proactive dental hygienist, I have an amazing opportunity, yet a critical responsibility to save lives through meticulous oral healthcare. The ultimate highlights of my career have been assisting patients seek early medical diagnosis of systemic conditions based on oral findings during comprehensive dental hygiene examinations.

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