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Q&A: How did you become a dental hygienist?

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Charlotte StirkQ: When did you decide to become a dental hygienist?

A: At age 19 and just a few weeks from receiving my AA in Liberal Arts, I still wasn't sure what my next step would be. My father suggested a career in the medical field to ensure some type of job security. Not long after that, I was talking to my boyfriend's mom about my lack of direction. She was a receptionist at a dental office and that day, while getting my teeth cleaned, it dawned on me that I love teeth and I always enjoyed visits to the dentist!

Q: Did you ever make a "rookie" mistake?

A: I actually left a patient?s glasses on while taking a PANO!!!  For years, every time I saw that film, I cringed. I was so focused on earrings and necklaces that I totally forgot the obvious.

Q: What advice can you give hygienists who are just starting out?

A: My best advice would be to find an employer who cares more about the wellbeing of his or her patients than the money he can collect from them. If you don?t have to compromise your own morals, you will find everything else can fall into place and you will be able to grow in the right direction as a caregiver.

Q: What has been your most memorable moment as a hygienist?

A: I took a high blood pressure reading during a routine hygiene visit with one of my patients and spent a bit of time explaining the oral/systemic link. I strongly suggested he take the time to visit his doctor for an evaluation. Months later, my boss told me that the secretary of his local dental association thanked him and me for taking such good care of her husband. After a visit with me, he saw his physician, started taking blood pressure medication, and ate better (something she had been trying to convince him of for years!)

Q: How do you coach and teach patients at your practice? 

A: Like many of my colleagues, I often feel that lack of time prevents me from educating patients while they are sitting up. Often times, I call out perio charting as it happens, describe what I?m seeing while I scale and give lots of analogies in humorous ways so that the ?lecture? doesn?t seem like one. I also depend on my iphone for photos, draw pictures on treatment plans and try to get the mirror out every once in a while to show people what I?m talking about.

Charlotte Stirk graduated from SPJC in 1998 and has been working 4 days a week with Dr. Steven L Steakley for 14 years at his general dentistry practice. She received her Bachelors degree in 2007 from Saint Petersburg College and is considering going back to college again when her 2 daughters get a little older. She considers many long term patients an extension of her family and is excited about the laser treatments her office now provides.

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