President’s Message

Dana Shaffer, RDH, BSDH, PHDHP

Dana Shaffer, RDH, BSDH, PHDHP

Here we are well into the next chapter of the profession of dental hygiene. Last year we celebrated 100 years of our profession. There have been so many celebrations to honor this historic event. And just think, you all were instrumental in playing a part. Where will we go over the next 100 years?   I can only imagine. 

We are already seeing new initiatives take hold within our association such as DentaQuest’s Healthy Teeth, Healthy Children, Age 1 Dental Initiative and we are getting closer to PHDHPs obtaining a provider number to help combat the access to care issue across our state.  We are on the forefront of developing alliances and realizing that we need better collaboration between dental, medical and other professions.  We all have a common denominator:  working together for the health of the general public and addressing access to care.  We are moving towards a more collaborative leadership structure within the ADHA and streamlining our PDHA structure. Our association is stagnating, and we are losing members who want more from their leadership and membership.  We have wonderful staff members at ADHA who are really looking at ways to boost membership.  The ADHA is studying ways to streamline our association to make it stronger and more functional. We are seeing more diverse opportunities and changes in our scope of practice. 

Dental hygiene education is making a shift in its focus on healthcare.  There will be more of a need for basic business skills as we seek new roles as dental hygienists outside the clinical realm: as we go from being just “teeth cleaners” to treatment coordinators, to essential primary care providers, to midlevel providers with the inception of the Advanced Practice Dental Hygiene Practitioner, to entrepreneur. Can you see yourself in any of these roles?  CODA is looking at the way hygienists will be tested in the future.  Do you think we will see simulation modules used in place of live patients for clinical boards?  It’s a very real possibility.  We have already seen the reciprocation of states accepting most board exams around the country.  ADEA wants more collaboration between ADHA and ADA. All working together. 

I am excited to see all the possibilities the next 100 years hold for our profession. Well at least the next 30-40 years for my lifetime. 

Let me ask all of you a question, and you don’t need to raise your hands, but just think about it.  Have you ever been hungry?  I mean have you really known what it is like to be hungry?  I’m sure some of you have.  My brother-in-law, Sean McElhaney, a principal at Old Mill Middle School North in Maryland, learned the answer to this first hand.  A few years ago during Middle States Testing, he was reviewing test papers and noticed one student’s response to an essay question. One of the students wrote “I don’t care” under the essay part of the test.  He called the student into the office, expecting to reprimand the student for being lazy and not taking the test seriously enough.  When he asked the student why he wrote that on the essay, he was not prepared for the answer he received.   The student responded, “Mr. Mac, I was too hungry to care.  I just couldn’t think”.  The student then proceeded to tell him that his family didn’t have enough money for food, and he often went without food at home.  Sometimes his only meal for the day was lunch at school, and he wouldn’t have much, if anything, to eat on the weekends. 

It broke Sean’s heart to think that this child and many more were going hungry, and that it was affecting their concentration and learning at school.  He knew he had to do something to change this, at least at school. He partnered with Share Our Strength, No Child Hungry, a program founded by Billy Shore.   If you have been on Facebook, you may have noticed that I frequently share posts from No Child Hungry.  Sean was instrumental in getting funding and broadening the school breakfast program to include everyone who wanted to eat breakfast, not just those who received a free lunch or free breakfast.  The school went from serving 40-50 breakfasts to over 450. Sean was invited to attend a conference at the White House, along with Jennifer Hudson, a spokesperson for Share our Strength, to talk about his experience and how he is trying to solve the problem across the state.  The governor of the state of Maryland invited him to speak at a health conference as well.  His efforts were instrumental in helping those in need.

There was a post on Facebook from the Erie local newspaper that mentioned not everyone was happy to have snow days from school or be out of school for the summer.   For many, it meant they would not have much, if anything, to eat those days. Even though these children are getting nutritional food while they are at school, what happens to them on the weekends when they go home? Most will have little or no food until Monday morning when they have breakfast at school again. As hygienists, we know that poor nutrition affects oral health and the overall health of the body.  We may be seeing several children in our offices or clinics who are hungry or go without a meal or two per day.  We are seeing the oral and systemic affects of this in these children as well as adults. 

On November 1, 2013, a provision of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expired causing 1.8 million Pennsylvanians to see a 5.4% cut in their food assistance.  766,000 of those were children.  In Erie County, 1 in 5 people are on food stamps. This number is astonishing to me, and it saddens me to know so many children go with little or no food.  This is not uncommon for the whole Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

There are several programs in place that help bridge the time from Friday after lunch to breakfast Monday morning.  The Backpack Buddies Program has been instrumental in bridging this need.  Students are sent home with backpacks of nutritional food that will get them and their families through the weekend.  This program in Erie is sponsored by the Second Harvest Food Bank.  Similar programs are going on all across the state.  I encourage each of you to volunteer your time or donate to these initiatives and lend a helping hand. 

1 in 6 people in the US are without adequate access to oral health care. In September 2015, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is going to expire, potentially leaving thousands if not millions of children without health insurance.  I encourage you to contact your senators to express your support for an extension.

Many platforms over the years have touched on strength, stepping up and mentoring.  Each of these themes has a common denominator…they all require teamwork. It takes a team to get things done.  I was right there with everyone else.  When I had been asked in the past years to step up and accept the nomination for Vice President and move up the line, I thought, someone else will run, not me, I can’t devote time right now.  But I felt it was time I took that leap of faith, and I know that I have a whole host of support in front of me, as well as behind me, to guide my journey. 
My past predecessor’s focuses were “Stepping Up” and “Take My Hand.”  The next aspect is working together and “Carrying the Load.” So this year I would like to focus on teamwork by encouraging more members to be involved and volunteering their services, inside and outside of our professional organization. We all have individual strengths.  That’s what makes each of us so unique.  Each of us has an area in which we excel. It’s what makes up our association. If we all had the same strengths, we would not survive. It’s all about Teamwork. Let’s not wait around for someone else to do it rather than getting involved.  Each of us has the duty to help carry the load before us.

I am proud to be a part of an office where services are currently provided to the underserved and uninsured one day a week. If every dental office would take the initiative, even a few days per month, to provide these services, can you imagine the impact that would make in addressing the access to care issue?  Hygienists as PHDHP’s are only a part of the solution. Just as these children know hunger, so do we.  Hunger for our profession. Hunger for missions. Hunger for good oral health.  Hunger for education.  Hunger for change.  Or are you just comfortable where you are now?

We all have a hunger that needs to be addressed.  Hunger permeates into all aspects of us, whether it is spiritual, mental or physical.  We tend to only address the physical aspect and fail to consider the whole.  Our hunger is our passion.
Are you hungry?  Get out of your comfort zone and volunteer at a clinic, at a soup kitchen, a hospital, a nursing home; go on a mission trip or donate to a food bank or Backpack Buddies. The possibilities are endless.  Join me to help “Carry the Load.”

Respectfully submitted,

Dana Shaffer, RDH, BSDH, PHDHP

PDHA President (2014-2015)

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