We’re delighted to introduce Shannon Brandstetter as our newest Winchester Dental superstar! Shannon is a registered dental hygienist, but did you know she didn’t have her own teeth cleaned by a hygienist until she was in hygiene school? Get to know her better in this interview.
Why do you love being a hygienist?
I’m a people person, and that’s important in this career. I’ve been doing this for 19 years and I still love it. I usually form relationships with my patients, and it’s such an important part of what I do. I get to know them and their families, and help with their hygiene and their health.
Did you have a professional mentor? How did that person encourage you?
I didn’t have a professional mentor, but there’s an interesting story behind my choosing this career. The mother of one of my childhood friends was a hygienist, and I always looked up to her and wanted to be like her. Then my middle school held a career day, but dentistry wasn’t one of the options. At the end of the day, my English teacher asked if any of the careers had sparked our interest, and assigned everyone to give a five-minute speech on the career of our choice at the end of the week. That evening my aunt was visiting, and she managed a dental office in town. I talked to her about our career day and she asked me if I had thought about dentistry. She explained what hygienists did, and I gave my speech on that. Later, in high school, I met with a university representative and we talked about—guess what!—hygiene, and I ended up following that path. As a side note, I didn’t receive a cleaning from a hygienist until I was in hygiene school–before that it had always been a dentist. Dentists did all my teeth cleaning when I was young!
Do you have a personal philosophy of dental hygiene and oral health?
Oral health is important to overall health, especially gum health, and I try to talk to patients about it. Gingivitis, the early stage of gum disease, can progress to serious gum disease, and that is linked to strokes, heart attacks, diabetes, and possibly even dementia. We’re still learning about how this works, but I understand clearly that an unhealthy mouth will eventually link to something else within your body.
There’s plenty of evidence supporting the importance of flossing in addition to brushing. Is one more important than the other?
They’re equally important. It’s all about controlling bacteria. When you brush, you remove surface plaque, but you’re not cleaning under your gums, and bacteria can migrate under the gums. And if you only floss, you’re not cleaning the tooth surfaces. So it really is important to do both. If you can’t easily use floss, you can use picks or a water flosser to clean between your teeth. And it’s worth noting that electric toothbrushes are more effective than the manual kind, since they can provide motion and vibration that we ourselves cannot. They’re not expensive—you can get a good electric toothbrush for as little as $20.
What advice would you give to a new or prospective hygienist?
The biggest thing is to be comfortable with people. Be a people person and have empathy. Many people who visit a dental office are afraid or have some sort of fear. Building relationships with patients is the number one thing you can do. I’ve been here at Winchester Dental for nine years, and I can see that being personable and gaining trust is a huge thing because as a hygienist you are often present at a patient’s visit for almost the whole time.
When a patient is nervous, how do you help them to relax and feel at ease?
I sit down and talk to them. I can often tell by body language that they’re nervous, and I stop to ask what their specific fears are. Sometimes giving a patient a certain amount of control during their cleaning is a really helpful way of allaying fears, so I ask if they’d like to hold the suction. Some patients don’t like to lie down all the way, so I don’t recline them all the way. I’m truly interested in their lives too, and talking to them about that really does help, even if they don’t like going to the dentist. It’s not all business.
You and your husband are beekeepers. Tell us about that!
We’ve been keeping bees for eight years. We also teach a beekeeping class, and belong to a local beekeeping club. This weekend we’re harvesting honey, which we sell by word of mouth! We teach a class every spring. My husband is from Germany, where beekeeping is common. He did an apprenticeship when he lived there. When we moved to Virginia, he enrolled in a class. I went to the first class meeting with him, and ended up going to all seven sessions. I love it now! Many patients refer to me as “the bee lady.” Some of them have also taken the class!
Is it time for your next teeth cleaning? Make your next appointment now! Refer a friend to us and you could earn $25 in credit towards your next treatment in our office!