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Dentist blog from Delta Dental

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Dentist spotlight: Dr. Lyudmila Kravchuk

Driven to become a dentist since she was in high school, Lyudmila Kravchuk, DDS, hasn’t let any obstacles stop her from achieving her goal. Originally from Ukraine, Dr. Kravchuk trained in Latvia and now runs a practice in Citrus Heights, California.

Her passion for transforming patients’ lives through dental health motivates her work as a dentist and keeps her patients returning to her practice year after year.

Our Dental Health Partner of the Month for August, Dr. Kravchuk has also been recognized for her dental work in the local community by Russian Time Magazine and the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento.

We caught up with Dr. Kravchuk after a busy week to discuss her story and why she still loves dentistry after four decades.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

My name is Dr. Lyudmila Kravchuk, I own a dental practice in Citrus Heights, California, and I do general dentistry. I work with patients of all ages. I opened my solo practice 17 years ago.

I was born in Ukraine. I decided to become a dentist after I graduated high school. I was living in Ukraine at the time. As a Christian, I didn’t join the Communist Party because it was against my values. But because I wasn’t a Communist Party member, no dental school in Ukraine would admit me, so I attended dental school in Latvia. Latvia was also a country in the former USSR, but they had slightly more religious freedom, so I was able to move there to go to dental school.

After finishing the dental program, I moved back to Ukraine, where I started working as a dentist. I worked in Ukraine for 15 years.

Why did you decide to become a dentist?

When I was in school, I knew I wanted to be in medical field the whole time. I thought I’d like family medicine, but it was extremely difficult to get into school for that. So, I decided to go into dentistry, and I really liked it! I’ve been working in dentistry for 41 years now.

When did you move to the United States?

I moved in the United States in 1994 with my husband, two children and my in-laws. I learned that California had a program for foreign dentists, and after passing the board exam in 1995, I got a California license.

When I arrived, I didn’t speak a word of English ― I’d never even heard English before. To teach myself, I started with a dictionary. I would read, and then I would write on the other side of the paper what the word meant. Those were my English classes, basically: dictionary, paper and a pen.

How did you settle on Citrus Heights? What made you decide to move there?

The Sacramento area has a large Slavic community, and I already knew a lot of people here. For my first five years in the U.S., I worked for a dental group. They told me that I was the dentist the doing most production for their office, so I decided to start my own practice! I opened my dental office here in 2005.

Tell us about your day-to-day. What kind of patients do you see? What do you do?

I see all different kinds of patients. My assistant takes x-rays, but I do the exam and treatment plan. I do everything from start to finish except for implants.

These days, I try not to work on Fridays, but I work on demand. If people tell me that they can only come in on a Friday, then I’m happy to come in. Sometimes people even come from San Francisco and Seattle. I have a couple of patients from Boise, and I even have one who called an hour ago coming from Missouri.

Wow! Why do you think patients come from so far to see you?

I think it’s because they trust me. Some of them have known me for 40 years.

What do you enjoy most about being a dentist?

Well, I like to do root canals! I like challenges. I like when people leave happy and smiling. And sometimes when people get new teeth, it can even be life changing. They’re more self-confident when they have a nice smile ― they’re no longer depressed, and they make new friends. Making people happy, when they leave my office happy — that’s what I enjoy most.

As I mentioned, there’s a large and diverse Slavic community here, and many of them come to my practice because there’s no language barrier, especially in the case of the elderly population. Many people are often anxious about going to the dentist, so I try to make it a simple, relaxed experience for them — no pressure.

When you’re not practicing dentistry, what do you like to do in your free time?

I love gardening, I love traveling, and I have seven grandkids in the area who come by my house on the weekends. They keep me busy! Even though I love gardening, I’m doing it less and less every year. I’m busier with the grandkids and with traveling to new places with the family.

I understand that your son has a pretty interesting job.

Yes, he does. He graduated with a degree in master choral orchestra conducting. He’s a high school music teacher, but he also has a non-profit choir, Slavic Chorale. They perform at all kinds of different events and perform in different languages. He absolutely loves choir — he’s into it every day. By the way, I wanted him to be a dentist or doctor, but it wasn’t his thing.

My daughter has been a physician’s assistant for 12 years, though, so I did get one child involved in the medical industry!

What challenges do you see facing the dental industry in the future?

I think that the biggest challenges that I see are dentistry becoming more corporate and the increasing student loans for dental students.

As dentistry becomes more and more corporate, small private practices might get pushed out of the competition. As a result, it’s going to be more and more difficult to have a dentist who can truly be your family dentist over the years. It’s going to be more like a factory instead.

Also, student loans are getting larger and larger, which makes it so much more difficult for new graduates to open their own practice.

It sounds like there are a lot of challenges for recent graduates of dental school. What advice would you give them?

I’d advise them to go to work with another dentist as associate in an office and try to do different kinds of procedures.

Also, try to be nice to people. Be patient. Make them smile.


Congratulations to Dr. Lyudmila Kravchuk on being our Dental Health Partner of the Month! Thank you for sharing your story with us. To learn more about Dr. Kravchuk and her practice, check out Lyudmila Kravchuk Dental Corporation on Facebook.

Improving access to care for underserved communities

How do we as a country start improving access to oral health care? How can we better serve the hard-to-reach populations who need it most? These are difficult questions, but there are few better places to start talking about answers than with Lisenia Collazo, DMD.

Dr. Collazo was born in Pennsylvania but spent her childhood and college years in Puerto Rico. She returned to the States to attend Penn Dental Medicine, where she pursued her DMD alongside a master’s in public health. During her time at Penn Dental, she was awarded a Delta Dental Community Scholarship, which provides students who demonstrate a strong commitment to improving access to care with sizeable scholarship assistance.

We reached out to Dr. Collazo to discuss how the scholarship helped to shape her current work and her perspective on the future of improving access to care.

How and when did you decide to become a dentist?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with two of my older cousins who happened to be dental assistants. I visited them a few times at the clinic where they used to work, and I got to see how a dental practice was run behind the scenes. By the time I was getting ready to graduate high school in Puerto Rico, I was lucky enough to visit the University of Puerto Rico’s Medical Sciences Campus and get an introduction to the different programs. Visiting the dental school, seeing how hands-on the training was, the blend of medicine and art, along with the experience I already had, it all really solidified my interest in dentistry as a career.

How did your interest in improving access to care develop?

Once I decided to pursue dentistry as my career, that’s when I started to notice how few people seek out dental care. They just let their oral health deteriorate. That’s due to a lot of factors, but I believe the main issue is the disconnect between dentistry and the rest of the medical field. Insurance plans are segregated from medical insurance, and there’s low oral health literacy in the general population and a lack of diversity among providers. Once I learned about those issues, I wanted to help patients become more comfortable with coming to the dentist and to educate myself about how to best improve access to care from an administrative standpoint.

How did being named a Delta Dental Community Scholar help you on your journey?

While I was in dental school, I was also in the community service honors program. I learned about the Delta Dental Community Scholarship during that time. The scholarship just helped me to solidify my commitment to working in underserved communities. That kind of scholarship helps to bring providers to patient populations that need them the most.

Coming from a low socioeconomic and minority background myself, I’m appreciative of the assistance those programs give because it helps students who are already committed to giving back to their communities, and it eases the burden that comes with student loan debt. As education becomes more and more expensive, it’s difficult to get providers to work in those underserved areas. Scholarship programs like the Delta Dental Community Scholarship truly help to get care to the people who need it the most.

You completed your DMD along with a master’s degree in public health. Why did you decide to pursue both degrees and could you describe how having both has shaped your career and outlook?

One of the reasons I chose to attend Penn Dental was because I was already aware of their dual degree program. I was very happy to be selected as one of the students they gave the opportunity to receive additional education alongside their DMD. Completing the master’s in public health during my time at Penn Dental basically helped me learn more about the policies that affect our patients’ health and what strategies we can use to make an impact at a higher level beyond what we can do chairside.

Can you describe your work since graduation?

During my senior year of dental school, I applied to the National Health Service Corps’ Students to Service Loan Repayment Program. I was awarded a significant amount of money to use towards my student loans. In exchange, I’ll work three years in an underserved area.

Dr. Lisenia Collazo
Dr. Lisenia Collazo grew up in Puerto Rico. She says she finds the winters in the Upper Peninsula very cold but beautiful.

During my residency, I began to look for available sites. I got an offer in my current location, which is Upper Great Lakes Family Health Center in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. It’s an underserved area, so a lot of our patients are either on Medicaid or do not have insurance.

The Upper Peninsula is extremely rural, and a lot of our patients drive hundreds of miles just to get care. The family health center I work with has about eight sites; two have dental clinics, and they’re in the process of opening more to make travel easier for our patients. It’s the same issue when they seek specialist care. If there’s a case where we have to refer to an oral surgeon or an endodontist, that’s very difficult for these patients. There just aren’t many providers here.

The population I work with is also located in a food desert. There’s mostly convenience stores that don’t have the most nutritious options. We see a high incidence of caries, and we see a lot of patients without any teeth at a very young age. Our mission is to educate patients — especially those with children — early on so we can prevent them from getting to that state later on in their life.

How far along are you in your three years of service? What are your plans after?

In July, it will be two years. I plan to stay here longer. I’m not exactly sure how long yet. I want to continue working in public health and to get my student loans forgiven through the government’s public service loan forgiveness program. I would have eight more years to go with that. I’ve considered staying here the remainder of those eight years, but as an Afro-Latina woman, I would also eventually like to go to a community with more Hispanic patients.

What do you love most about being a dentist?

Empowering patients through education is one of the most rewarding things that comes with the career. The most difficult thing when it comes to patients receiving health care is that there’s low health literacy.

I also love helping patients feel at ease in the dental chair and learn to trust health care providers by building those relationships. Diversity and representation truly matter. As a dentist who is a woman and also Afro-Latina, I’m happy to see more women and people of color entering the medical field because that does make a difference when it comes to patients coming in to receive care.


The Delta Dental Community Care Foundation has endowed in perpetuity the awarding of two Community Scholarships each year to Penn Dental students who desire to work in an underserved area after graduation. The Foundation works with nonprofit partners across our 15-state and Washington, D.C. enterprise to increase access to oral health care, fund oral health education and support organizations that serve vital needs in our communities. The Foundation is the philanthropic arm of Delta Dental of California and its affiliated companies, including Delta Dental Insurance Company, Delta Dental of Pennsylvania and Delta Dental of New York, Inc.

Dentist spotlight: Dr. Scott Lafont

Dr. Scott Lafont’s career as a dentist has taken him across the globe to help his patients achieve healthy smiles and great outcomes. These days, he lives with his family in Alabaster, Alabama and practices at StoneCreek Dental Care. In this interview, he shares the story of his career, his thoughts on the future of dentistry and his love of fishing.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your practice. What does an average day look like for you?

I’m originally from New Orleans, but Alabama is my home now. I have the best team — without them, I couldn’t care for patients like I do. I normally see patients in two separate rooms, doing crowns, emergencies, extractions, evaluations for implants and dentures. It’s a multi-faceted practice.

How and when did you decide to become a dentist?

My wife inspired me. When we met, I was a young, enlisted guy in the National Guard with an active-duty job. I wasn’t going to school, but my wife studied dental hygiene. She ended up doing very well and became a teacher at the dental school, and I decided that it was time for me to go back to school full time and finish my bachelor’s degree in biology. Two years later, I went to dental school, graduated from the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry in 2002, and it’s been a blessing ever since.

What led you to practice at your current location?

Over the years, I’ve lived in Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Arizona. After I retired from the Air Force, my wife and I knew we wanted to head back to the South from Phoenix. But we didn’t want to deal with the hurricanes and stuff like that in Louisiana. We looked at schools, at places where it would be easy to travel, at places where we would be close to family, at places that had charm and good food, and we decided to settle in the general area of Birmingham, Alabama. We prayed a lot about that decision, and the whole family agreed it was the right choice. Once we arrived, I went into private practice, but I didn’t want to own the practice. StoneCreek Dental gave me the autonomy and support I need to practice dentistry the way I want to practice.

I see that you specialize in implant, cosmetic and complex dentistry. Can you talk about that?

When I was in the Air Force, I was known as a go-getter, and I had a couple different bosses encourage me to get training for implant dentistry. I’ve always been interested in new technologies and learning new ways of doing things that let me work more efficiently and produce better results for my patients. Over the years, I’ve invested a lot of time and energy into learning more and getting training.

You served as a dentist in the armed forces. Tell me about your experience.

I come from a blue-collar family, so joining the National Guard was a way for me to afford to go to college. I did an active-duty job for a few years, met my wife, and was part of the Air Force National Guard for almost 10 years. When I went back to school, I had a scholarship from the military and went back to the Air Force as a dentist. I served my country from 2002 to 2016, both in the US and overseas in Guam and Japan. I’ve cared for new recruits and four-star generals, for Marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers, and sometimes their families. Finally, after 14 years in the military as a dentist, I retired from the Air Force in 2016.

Looking back, it was a blessing to be able to serve my country through my career. I helped a lot of good men and women, learned a lot and was able to take advantage of the opportunities that the Air Force gave me.

What do you enjoy most about being a dentist?

I just love doing dentistry. I love treating patients, and I love dental work in general. I like looking at a situation and figuring out what the best way to fix it is in the way that’s best for the patient. I try to give the best service I can to my patients, but also to listen and see where they’re at, what their wants and needs are and what they can afford.

Often, I’ll see patients who are coming to me for a second opinion. They’ll have seen somebody else who gave them a treatment plan they didn’t understand. Helping patients understand their care, going through the process, explaining different options and opportunities and advancements in dentistry and finally settling on the best plan is probably the thing that excites me most about dentistry.

What challenges do you see facing the dental industry in the future?

I think the biggest change coming to dentistry is the growth of 3D technologies, like 3D printing. That’ll bring down prices for dentists. In the military, I ran a multimillion-dollar practice, but I’ve been on the other side as well, where every dollar matters. It can be a real challenge to bring patients affordable dentistry that’s still at a high quality. I think both dental practices and the insurance industry will need to align to embrace these technologies and settle on new standards of care.

What advice would you give a fresh dental school grad?

“Dental school is not the last place that you learn.” That means if you want to be able to grow as a dentist, you need to put out the effort. Sometimes that means sacrificing personal time and money, but it’s important if growing as a dentist is what you really want to do. My recommendation is to stay on top of new technology and dental materials. It’s better for both the patient and for the dentist to be knowledgeable.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I wish I had more free time! I’m a little old-school, where my mind’s always on business and work. But I do like to fish when I can. We live in a neighborhood with a little lake, and I’m happy to just sit out there and zone out and relax, even if I don’t catch anything. Dentistry can be a stressful career, so it’s important to find moments to enjoy peace and quiet.

I also really enjoy just spending time with my family. Watching movies and shows, playing board games and card games, things like that. My kids are older now — 19 and 17 — and it’s fun to just chill with them.


Congratulations to Dr. Scott Lafont of StoneCreek Dental Care on being named our Dental Health Partner of the Month! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us, and tight lines next time you’re out on the lake!

Dentist spotlight: Dr. Alan Bui

Selling hot dogs may not sound like the most logical starting point for a career in dentistry. But Alan Bui, DDS, who grew up helping out with his family’s hot dog truck in Washington, D.C., says he loved befriending the truck’s regular customers. Cultivating relationships that could sometimes last for years made him realize that a career in dentistry — with its close, long-lasting interpersonal relationships between doctor and patients — would be the perfect fit for him.

Dr. Bui graduated from the University of Maryland School of Dentistry in 2020. We reached out to him at his office Simply Beautiful Smiles in Abington, Pennsylvania, to discuss his first few years as a dentist, his advice for others just starting out in the field and what he sees as the biggest challenge for dentistry today.

You grew up in northern Virginia and the D.C. area. Why did you decide to practice in Abington, Pennsylvania?

I went to dental school at University of Maryland. I got a position for my residency at Jefferson Abington Hospital in Pennsylvania. It’s about five minutes from where I work right now. My girlfriend and I liked it a lot, so we decided to stay and make this our new home. I love it here.

How and when did you decide to become a dentist?

I grew up in a working-class family that owned a hot dog truck in D.C. When I was selling hot dogs, I would see a lot of the same faces. I could catch up with them every day, and I really saw them throughout their lives. I knew I wanted to do something very personal. I knew I wanted to see people on a continual basis. I also loved science. Dentistry was the culmination of both those things. I can treat patients, get to know the story of their life, their family. I can see them throughout the years and really take care of them. I’m also able to apply a love of science to that. Dentistry was just the perfect fit.

Can you tell me about your work providing free dental care through Mission of Mercy events? Why do you think it’s important to give back to the community that way?

Dr. Bui works with Mission of Mercy in Pennsylvania, a free dental clinic for underserved Pennsylvanians.

Mission of Mercy is a group of dentists who organize events that offer two days of free dental care. A bunch of people line up at 4 in the morning, and we just volunteer our time doing procedures like extractions, fillings, even root canals. We’re there pretty much the whole day, starting at 6 am and finishing maybe 6 pm.

When I was growing up, my family wasn’t exactly poor, but we didn’t have health insurance and we didn’t have the money for things like dental care. I don’t remember having regular dental visits growing up. Luckily, I had good oral hygiene, but I can imagine many people in similar or worse circumstances where they don’t have insurance and can’t afford the dental care. Having a set day where they can access free care makes a big difference in their lives.

What advice would you give to other young dentists just starting out?

Some personal advice: Be honest. Patients know when you’re being honest with them. They can see it. The stress of dentistry goes away when you’re honest with yourself and honest with your patients. Being honest makes a big difference in having a good career.

A consistent challenge for dentists that’s becoming particularly thorny at this time is staffing. Do you have any advice or insight to give other dentists on the issue?

My advice would be: Take the time to check in with your team. Just now, I was having lunch with my team, and we were talking about our days, about life. Make sure everything’s OK with them, and always ask if they have any concerns or questions.

What do you love most about being a dentist?

Talking to patients. Addressing their nerves and anxiety. For me the best feeling is when a patient comes in nervous — you can tell by the way they talk and their body language. But once you take the time to gain their trust, to be honest with them, and have all that nervousness go away, it’s a really good feeling. It’s a great thing to have as a dentist.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for dentistry today?

I’m still a relatively young dentist, but from what I’ve experienced so far, it’s finances — whether or not a patient can afford things out of pocket. When I try to tell a patient they need something for the best long-term prognosis and the best outcome, it’s usually the thing they can’t afford. The biggest challenge is financial access to care.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like physical activity. A lot of dentists can develop back problems, so I’m always at the gym or playing basketball. It’s almost always something physical. I hike a lot with my girlfriend. I like to be active.


Congratulations to Dr. Bui of Simply Beautiful Smiles for being our Dental Health Partner of the Month, and a big thank-you for taking the time to share his thoughts with us!

Meet Dr. Jessica Buehler, Director of Dental Affairs

Whether she’s motorcycling through the Alps or hiking through Southeast Asia to bring aid where it’s needed most, Dr. Jessica Buehler approaches what she does with passion, courage and commitment. That includes her work rewriting Delta Dental’s Quality Improvement Plan and bettering the oral health of members through her wellness webinars as Delta Dental’s Director of Dental Affairs.

We recently caught up with Dr. Buehler to discuss her work at Delta Dental, her time as a frontline provider during the early days of COVID and her dual passions for traveling and musical theater.

I think a lot of people, including even some dentists, might be surprised to learn that a dental insurance company like Delta Dental has dentists on staff. Can you tell us about the work you do for Delta Dental?

My work is to support our quality program. Insurance plans are regulated by the Department of Insurance and other regulatory bodies to ensure that the care is appropriate. It takes clinicians to be a part of that process so that key decisions about care and quality aren’t made by laypeople. They’re made by clinicians who have practiced and treated patients just like our dentists.

What initially led you to dentistry as a career?

I was overseas on the San Blas Islands off the coast of Panama working with an indigenous tribe on a summer mission trip. I volunteered to help a Panamanian dentist who was assigned by the government  to do health work on the island. I saw severe infections — people who had no access to care. It opened up my heart to this way to impact the world; it showed me how much dentists can improve people’s lives, not only in the U.S. but also overseas where people don’t have access to care.

What are the biggest rewards of your work now?

I feel my ability to impact oral health in this country is much bigger working for a plan. When you’re working as a chairside dentist, your impact is limited to only those patients you touch or the community events you volunteer at. Right now, I’m giving enrollee wellness webinars that are live-cast across the country to hundreds of enrollees at once. Having an impact on a stage that’s much bigger is really fun for me.

What do you miss most about being a chairside dentist? What do you miss least?

I miss the connection with my patients. You don’t realize when you go into dental school as a young person that your patients follow you for years and years. I saw couples get married and have babies. I saw babies grow into high schoolers. I saw couples get divorced and people pass. You are an intimate part of people’s lives over time. It feels like you’re checking in with old friends every time you see these patients. And when I went through those big life events like getting married and having a baby, my patients were there for me. I’m separated from that now, and I miss that.

In terms of what I miss the least: staffing. Staffing is impossible right now. Overall, dentistry is one of the hardest jobs in the world. It’s not for the faint of heart. 

I was so impressed to learn that you were a frontline provider during the early days of the COVID pandemic. It’s only been a couple years since then, but many of us have forgotten (or blocked out!) how very scary that time was, how many unknowns there were. Can you tell me about your work during that time?

When COVID hit, I was a regional clinical director supervising over 80 clinicians and specialists in Seattle. We were the epicenter of when it was first blowing up. Things were happening very fast, and there was very little guidance at that time, but we knew we had to do something to help. We had to make tough decisions about closing our offices: We had around 30 offices, and we went down to four.

The government was coming into dental offices and taking PPE, but we were expected to care for patients. My husband’s in construction, so he got a welding face shield for me and a construction and painting P100 respirator with a mask over the end. It wasn’t just about keeping myself safe. I was dealing with a lot of anxiety trying to keep my team safe. Some of my colleagues who worked for me had at-risk relatives at home. Some of them had health conditions. I was driving around the state to gather whatever supplies I could find in the construction world to provide to my doctors who were working those frontlines. It was a really scary time.

What do you think are some of the most important things Delta Dental can do to help maintain strong, positive relationships with dentists?

I think being empathetic to how hard dentistry is. It’s easy to go into a dental office and think a dentist is just a “tooth-counter.” I’ve had people say to me, “You make way too much money for what you do.” But a lot of people have no idea what dentists do! It’s a really hard job. It’s even hard on your body, too. You have to manage the emotions of your patients; you have to manage your staff. It’s challenging to be a business leader and a clinician and everything else.

Speaking of playing multiple roles, I was interested to learn that you have a background in musical theater. Can you tell me a little bit about that? Do you feel that your work in theater and performance helped inform your daily work as a dentist at all? Do the two pursuits have anything in common?

My parents always said, “Do whatever you want. We know you’ll succeed at whatever you decide.” So, I got really involved in musical theater and lighting design when I was in college. I loved the theater, but I realized I was a bit too organized and Type A to hang forever in that world…

I still love and appreciate the theater, but I come from a science family, and I almost felt dentistry was a calling. Once I got it into my brain, I couldn’t get it out. But, the things I learned in the theater — to ground yourself, to speak and perform with confidence — are really important and have helped me grow a lot as a provider.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I’m an avid reader. I run a book club for a community inclusion group at Delta Dental, Women@Delta. I love everything outdoors: stand-up paddleboarding, snow skiing, camping, hiking, wakeboarding, all of it. Just put me outdoors and I’m a happy girl! I love to travel. I did a motorcycle tour through the Alps, hitting seven countries in Europe with my dad. He’s passed now, so that’s one of my favorite memories… I love Thailand. I love Australia. I’ve done work in Southeast Asia in countries that aren’t even open to Western aid. I backpacked in and brought dental tools and taken teeth out, all sorts of crazy stuff. I have a family now, so I don’t do as many risky things now, but I still love to travel!

Partner spotlight: Stacey Zelesnick

For more than 20 years, Stacey Zelesnick, RDH, PDHP, has taken pride in helping even the grumpiest and most anxious patients relax and enjoy their visit.

Now a Provider Network Ambassador for Delta Dental, Zelesnick serves as a point of contact for dentists in the greater Philadelphia area providing outreach, education and face-to-face visits with our network dentists and staff. With her deep knowledge of the field, her understanding of dentists’ and hygienists’ concerns and her cheerful, easy-going way of putting others at ease, she’s our Dental Health Partner of the Month for March.

We caught up with Zelesnick to discuss her background, her work with kids and some of the issues hygienists and dentists are now facing.

How and when did you decide to become a dental hygienist?

I had a childhood dentist who was a family friend, so I was always comfortable going to the dentist. However, I was always the one with the cavities when my sister and I left! That being said, I just really enjoyed watching everyone work. I always thought, “Wow, I think I’d like to do that when I get older.” And sure enough, here I am!

Can you tell me about a typical day for you as a hygienist, both as a school hygienist and in private practice?

As a school dental hygienist, I would typically go in and screen over 200 kids, checking their mouths to make sure everything looked okay. If it didn’t, I’d call their parents and talk about getting the kids the care they needed. As a clinical hygienist, a typical day is seeing patients every 50 minutes: x-rays, oral cancer screenings, sealants, perio evaluations, fluoride, all kinds of stuff. It’s very demanding on that 50-minute schedule.

Can you describe your day-to-day work now as a Provider Network Ambassador? How does your former work as a hygienist help inform you in your new position?

Stacey Zelesnick

I’m the point of contact for all providers in the Greater Philadelphia Area.  I’m there to help resolve issues, answer questions, do term interventions and educate on Provider Tools, Virtual Consult, Quality Management, provider awareness campaigns and Medicare compliance and assessments. Each day is different, and that’s what I love: a new day, new challenges, new things to learn and new providers to help. 

I’m proud of the years I dedicated to patient care, so I do make some offices aware I am a dental hygienist. They quickly realize I can relate to their frustration, exhaustion and feeling of depletion all too well. And not to mention, those feelings were present before COVID, staffing issues and severe inflation costs!

I’m beyond happy to dedicate my years in the dental profession to helping the providers and their staff in any way to make their lives just a little easier. 

What are some of the biggest oral health problems you came across in young people? In your opinion, what needs to be done to resolve those sorts of issues?

Two words: sugar intake. Every age, every grade, I talked about sugar, whether it was how to read labels or how to convert grams of sugar to teaspoons. I tried to help them to understand by showing them visually how much sugar is in their favorite cereal or in that chocolate milk they have with lunch. I’m a visual person, and that’s how I learn, but I feel that’s so important to see.

Kids say the darnedest things… Any funny stories about an especially surprising, strange or hilarious encounter with one of your young patients?

Things like that make my day! One time, I was cleaning a mom’s teeth, and her little girl was watching, a little skeptical because she had never had her own teeth cleaned before. When we were done, I let her ride in the chair, and I was showing her some of the tools I work with. When I picked up some toothpaste, she said, “My mommy only likes wine-flavored toothpaste.”

What makes for an especially rewarding day for a hygienist?

Helping kids get free care if they qualified for it. I had over 300 students one year get free care. That in itself is rewarding. It wasn’t just cleanings. Some would need oral surgery; some would need braces. That felt really good to help them get care they couldn’t get otherwise.

And just establishing a relationship with so many patients was a daily reward for me. I loved marking all of life’s major milestones together, whether it was the patients’ or mine. It’s fantastic, the relationships you develop. You’re really close and working one on one so you can really get to know somebody, and that in and of itself is quite rewarding.

What sorts of things can make a day challenging or unpleasant?

I honestly love a challenge. But a challenge for me clinically would be trying to win a patient over who was just clearly unhappy to be at the dentist, to try to make their dental experience better. I always tried to welcome those patients who weren’t the nicest when they walked in.

Recent reports show that many hygienists who left the profession when the pandemic began have decided not to return. Why do you think this is, and what effect will it have on the industry?

I was shocked to hear that. I think hygienists left their positions during the pandemic for a number of reasons: whether it was due to not feeling safe, or maybe they had kids who were home learning virtually for a year and they didn’t have child care or somebody to help with that, or they had elderly patients and they were afraid they would expose them. All those things went into play. They say that now one in every three dentists is looking to hire a hygienist and enrollments are down for dental hygiene students. It’s interesting. I don’t have a solution for that. Being a hygienist is hard work. Benefits aren’t always the greatest because a lot of hygienists are part-time. They’re parents. They try to juggle a lot. It can be a physically exhausting job.

This year’s Women’s History Month theme is Providing Healing, Promoting Hope. Do you think your work as a hygienist has positioned you to do that?

I didn’t know that was the theme, but I love that! I think your overall health is so important, whether it’s mental or physical. When people want to get healthier, they think, “Oh, I’m going to exercise,” or “I’m going to meditate,” which is great. But I feel, with my job, it begins with your mouth, not just with what we eat but with oral hygiene. If you don’t feel like going to the gym one day, don’t beat yourself up over it. But floss, because that one little thing can make your health better. If it can give you a healthier heart and make you live longer, why not? And it’s kind of simple to do.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to travel, whether it’s with friends or with my family. I feel I have a lot of time to make up for after staying at home for the last two years! Mostly I just enjoy experiencing things with my kids. They’re 13 and 14, and I think they still kind of like my husband and me? I feel like our days are numbered. We still don’t totally embarrass them. Until then, we’ll continue to take advantage of road trips and vacations. Anything that involves them and making memories is great because it all just goes so darn fast.


Congratulations to Stacey Zelesnick on being named our Dental Health Partner of the Month! If you are in the greater Philadelphia area and have questions about Provider Tools, Virtual Consult, Quality Management or anything else related to Delta Dental, you can reach out to her at szelesnick@delta.org.

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