The Journey to Becoming a Complex Care Hygienist

My name is Sandy Sheffler, and I have been a registered dental hygienist in the State of Maryland since 1973. For the last 45 years, I have been very fortunate to work in very progressive dental offices. In 1988, I was introduced to Dr. Paul Keyes, dental researcher and director of the National Institute of Dental Research and the developer of the Keyes Technique – a 7 step system to periodontal health. He was among the first dentists to associate pathogenic bacteria with dental diseases. That is when my career really took off. I started to work with a phase contrast microscope. The reaction from my patients was astounding. They could actually see the living bacteria that came from their mouth. Some were horrified, some intrigued, all wanted to know how to rid their mouth of these bugs!

I have been talking to my patients, and frankly, anyone who would listen, about how important it is to identify the bacteria that contributes to periodontal disease and know when it is eliminated. I have written 3 published articles for RDH magazine about this over the years.

About 10 years ago while attending a dental hygiene conference I was introduced to OralDNA® Labs. My co-worker Sherri and I were so excited that there was an additional way to identify more pathogens and how to remove them. They also talked about the correlation of these pathogens from oral disease to systemic diseases. I had already been discussing this with my patients and even wrote an article about it as early as 2008.

Then came COVID. I will admit I lost my way, my drive, my passion. It took me nearly 3 years to get that back. In July 2023, Sherri and I went to RDH Under One Roof in Nashville. We were so excited and amazed that almost every course encouraged us to utilize saliva tests. Finally, the profession was catching up! We came back home with a whole new perspective. Since then, we have tested at least 40 people, and that number is growing. The response from our patients is amazing. This is what I was meant to do. I am not just the “cleaning lady” but a true health care professional, helping my patients achieve overall health.

Now after being a clinical dental hygienist for 50 years, I am retiring. Though I will truly miss all of my long-standing patients who are now my friends, I have reinvented myself. I am going to work 4 days a month, only seeing new patients with extreme dental problems. I am calling myself a Complex Care Hygienist. In this role I will be helping people who have stayed away from dental care for whatever reason for many years. They need someone to listen, educate, and help them. Most likely they will all have OralDNA Labs’ tests done as part of their comprehensive diagnosis and care plans. Together we will strive for optimum dental and general health which is what makes me love being a dental hygienist.

OralDNA would like to thank Sandy for her many years of dedicated service and for her contributions to the advancement and improvement of patient care. We wish her all the best on her new adventures in retirement and her role as a Complex Care Hygienist. Congratulations on your wonderful career!

Sandy Sheffler RDH
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