Top 25 Women in Dentistry: Top Women Team Members

March 21, 2012

Barbara Dixon, RDH, MEd Those who deal in management, education and organizational work are often the unsung heroes,” wrote the woman who nominated Barbara Dixon, RDH, MEd. That ends now.

Barbara Dixon, RDH, MEd

Those who deal in management, education and organizational work are often the unsung heroes,” wrote the woman who nominated Barbara Dixon, RDH, MEd. That ends now.

Barbara has been working in the dental industry for 35 years; 20 of those have been spent as a volunteer participant and officer for the Western Regional Examining Board (WREB), working to develop the dental hygiene licensure examinations. Her work analyzing test performances and handling competency assessments, while pushing to expand and improve the dental hygiene exam, is the type of behind the scenes action that helps shape the high standard of care patients receive and often take for granted.

Her love for the profession, even as a child- “Growing up we played dentist, not doctor,” she jokes-translates into today’s unmistakable passion. Whether it is through writing a chapter for a dental hygiene textbook, mentoring or through her work with the American Dental Hygienists Association, she is out there, making things happen.

“My daughter says my spirit animal is a hummingbird, which probably says a lot about my personality,” she says, explaining that beyond the boundless energy and spirit, it has been said that the hummingbird brings love as no other medicine can, and its presence brings joy to the observer. Her characteristics have helped shape her into the happy, successful woman she is today.

“I’ve been fortunate; I have a great family and a wonderful career. I think the biggest thing I’ve had to deal with is finding the right kind of balance in my life; juggling work, service and family. I think that is something everyone has to work on.”

Adriana Manning, Business Manager

Business woman. Bookkeeper. Mediator.

These are just some of the job titles wrapped up in Adriana Manning’s role as Office Manager. This multifaceted woman seems destined to hold down the fort in a dental practice. In spite of a commute that tends to last at least 3 hours a day and a second full-time job as a single mom, she wouldn’t change a thing-and everyone in the practice is thankful.

From a front desk position to overseeing the operation of two practices and managing a staff of four doctors and 14 employees, she has come quite a long way. Over the last 15 years she helped modernize her practice by pushing for the integration of practice management software, helped rebuild the practice twice-once after a fire and once after a sudden notice to vacate. As recently as November of 2007, she was instrumental in helping her office address and recover from an embezzlement scheme. She has seen it all and through a variety of trials stepped up as a leader her dentist could count on, rather than just a woman behind the front desk.

With all these accomplishments, Adriana still asserts that the thing she finds most rewarding is her family. “I have two daughters,” she explains. “The oldest is in her last year of college, and my youngest is 10. I am so proud of them.” With a motto of, “work smarter, not harder,” she has managed to become an invaluable asset to her practice while prioritizing her family.

Michelle Vacha, RDH, BS

“I always knew I wanted to be a hygienist,” Michelle Vacha says. Even though that disarmingly simple title has meant more than just clinical care, but also stepping out as a small business owner.

In 1999, Michelle moved to Colorado and found her place in a dental practice. Over the next eight years she witnessed countless cases of disease and neglect in nursing home residents and the difficulties they faced in accessing dental care.

“I used to have a few patients who would bring family members from nursing homes in for cleanings, and saw the difficulties they faced in transporting and affording care,” Michelle remembers. In 2007, Michelle decided it was time for a change. She founded Senior Mobile Dental (SMD), an organization that works to ensure senior citizens have access to the dental care they need. 

The program redirects available resources from traditional dental settings into a more accessible orientated program directly addressing the issues seniors face in transporting and affording preventive oral health care. The organization is working to re-engineer existing institutional conditions and theories of dental diseases affecting physical health and teeth retention of older adults.

“One of the social barriers we are correcting is the assumption that elders have dentures. Will you still have your teeth at 70, 80, 90…?,” Donna Vie Walchli, RDH, BS, Vice President of SMD, said. “Michelle  has renewed the vitality of local facilities by showing the need and success of interdisciplinary care. By creating this mobile dental hygiene program to bring direct access to care, she has re-imagined ways to navigate around the social obstacles.”

This program could thrive as a for-profit service, but Michelle created it as a non-profit to be able to offer all seniors care, regardless of income or insurance. There were, of course, times when Michelle worried about the security of her career in a non-profit, especially as its founder, full-time employee and the ongoing responsibilities that come with being a wife and a mother. Michelle perseveres, because it matters.  “In the beginning, my initial focus was oral health, but I’ve come to realize there is so much more involved with access to care issues nationally,” she says. “I hope to make a difference.”

For Ruth, one of her clients, the difference is already clear. “For me to be able to have a dental hygienist right here in the same building is great,” she says. “They do a wonderful job and I appreciate it.”

Sherri White, RDA, CDD

Typically, when one thinks of dental team members going the extra mile, it’s their sensitive touch with the testiest patients, covering those extra shifts last minute or volunteering for one or two of the hum-drum tasks around the practice. Sherri White, RDA, CDD, is anything but typical.

While many dental professionals are still wondering if CAD/CAM is an investment worth their time and resources, Sherri didn’t need to ask twice. While working in one of the most productive dental practices in the country she took the lead in integrating chairside CAD/CAM where-within just two years-she had fabricated and delivered hundreds of same-day restorations and fabricated thousands of lab-fabricated restorations using the same system.

Today, she is committed to helping more practices realize the positive results of CAD/CAM technology as a Clinical Integration Specialist (CIS) for D4D Technologies. She spends a full day “on the ground” with practices when they first get their system, making sure they get off on the right foot. “I visit practices and optimize the way they can use technology to make a patient’s experience more enjoyable and an office’s experience more profitable,” she explains.

Sherri takes this a step further in her role as faculty member at E4D University, where she leads a course called CAD CAMp, providing participants with advanced techniques on implementing CAD/CAM in their daily routines. She also does live demos across the country with Henry Schein Dental, the exclusive distributor of the E4D system, so professionals and patients can become familiar with the operational aspects and opportunities of CAD/CAM.

Many people would be daunted by the prospect of introducing a high-tech concept to dental professionals and practices, often slow to accept change and hesitant of costly price points-but not Sherri.

“I have always said I am a realist versus an optimist. When you are constantly working with new technology in a profession that sometimes is adverse to change, you have to show them it works, and that’s what I love doing-opening everyone’s eyes up to the possibilities that didn’t even exist several years ago,” she explains. “You have to have confidence, have trust in the technology and know that sometimes change is necessary to get better. Dentistry should embrace the concept of same-day restorations without compromise in form, fit, function and esthetics.”