We’ve met some amazing dental hygienists, all at different points in their careers: Fran Tourdot, age 82. Barb Orth, age 75. Renee Ahlf, age 67 and Kelli Dash, age 56. The next chapter in our Decades of Dental Hygiene introduces us to Kym Dallstream, RDH, BS, age 42. Kim is a nonstop volunteer and has used the networking connections she has made within the dental hygiene profession to carve out the perfect working schedule.
Jensen: Thanks for being part of this series Kym. I know the readers will be very interested in your career journey. Let’s start with your family background. Where did you grow up?
Dallstream: Thanks for this opportunity! I was born in Gurnee, IL (north of Chicago). I am the eldest of five children. My family was a great support in my decision to pursue a career in dental hygiene.
Jensen: Where did you attend dental hygiene school?
Dallstream: I was able to live away from home and attend Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, and I graduated in 2001. Our class was the first all-baccalaureate program, and we all earned a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. Illinois just passed local anesthesia for dental hygienists, so I had to take the course after I graduated.
I made great connections with other students and faculty. We were a very close-knit group! We had an active SADHA program and participated in many extra programs. Between the extras and just keeping up with the program curriculum, we were nonstop.
Jensen: Yes. Go SIU. Go Salukis! I went to SIU as well! So after graduation, where did your career take you first?
Dallstream: I had to wait until July when my license finally arrived from the state. That was back in the day of snail mail. I worked in a private practice near where I grew up. It was a small office of two dentists and two hygienists. I was there for five years.
I then moved and started at another office. One of the dentists was diagnosed with throat cancer and lived only for a few years. I saw firsthand what someone goes through with treatment for this cancer. I learned so much. Even this dentist kept shaking off some symptoms. He would clear his throat all the time but chalked it up to allergies and never checked further.
I changed offices again to increase my hours and meet the needs of my family. I truly enjoyed working in private practice, but then I was given an offer for a different position.
Jensen: Was this position still in the dental field?
Dallstream: Yes, but out of the operatory. I changed gears and became the treatment coordinator at a successful prosthodontist office. The office did all-on-four cases and full implant-retained bridges.
My position was to close the case and set up all future visits and make financial arrangements for payment. At first, I was intimidated discussing $25,000 to $50,000 treatment plans! But I learned how to do this professionally and with empathy and became a great value to the office. About half a year into this position, the office hired a consultant that guided the practice into major changes, including my hours and salary, so I decided to leave.
This was my first step out of the operatory, and I learned so much from the experience. I headed back to clinical two days a week − one day in a periodontal practice.
Jensen: Did working outside of clinical give you the desire to learn more about other opportunities?
Dallstream: Yes. I attended CareerFusion in 2017. This meeting opened my eyes to so many career options for dental hygienists; the networking was amazing. It was fantastic to sit and talk with so many RDHs who were so passionate about their careers.
This meeting led me to work the Spry/Xlear booth at the Chicago Midwinter Meeting. In 2018, I provided webinars for Water Pik, work more professional programs for Spry, and still work clinically. I enjoyed doing multiple projects. This also led me to be a Young Clinical Rep. Currently, I am a sales rep for Syneos Health representing Johnson & Johnson − Listerine and Reach products.
Jensen: You are one busy RDH! What would you say helped push you to go for these different positions?
Dallstream: I give credit to being active in my local dental hygiene component. I have held many board positions, including the president of my local component, ADHA delegate, and I am currently the IDHA (state level) secretary. The networking within the association helped me find these job opportunities. Being active in the component and at the state level gave me the confidence to speak confidently to large groups. Volunteer work can open doors.
Jensen: Absolutely. Volunteering can give you so many transferable skills. OK, let’s change gears. What do you do for fun? Favorite read? Favorite TV show?
Dallstream: My fun revolves around my 15-year-old son, my 10-year-old daughter, my husband, and all of their many activities! I volunteer with Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, the high school booster club, and band parents. I love to help! I have little time to read or watch TV, but I do enjoy listening to podcasts, especially “A Tale of Two Hygienists” and “Beyond the Prophy.” I have learned so many new things and updates from these podcasts.
Jensen: Going back to dental hygiene, do you have any special patient stories?
Dallstream: Yes, and it is such a positive memory with a sad ending. I saw Joan every two months. She was a retired nurse, always had very heavy calculus on the lower anterior teeth and refused the use of the ultrasonic scaler. She was a cancer survivor and had a colostomy bag. She was on dialysis but still made it to her dental appointments.
She was a lovely woman who lived on a farm with her family. I even went to visit her on the farm with my kids, and they got to ride the combine. We had a true friendship. She called the office to inform me that she would not make her appointment scheduled for the following week.
Her cancer was progressing. There would be no more dental visits. She thanked me for all the great care I had provided. She was dying. But she called me. It hit me so hard. We are making a difference in the lives of our patients. I was truly touched.
Jensen: I love that story. I am sure her memory will always be part of you. Kym, you are so active in the profession of dental hygiene. What would you like to see changed?
Dallstream: We need to increase access to dental care, especially for seniors.
Jensen: What are some changes that you have seen since graduation, and what would you tell your new grad self now?
Dallstream: The digital age of charts and x-ray has streamlined care so much. I would tell my new grad self to be patient! Have grace. In time, things will happen.
Jensen: Oh, yes-patience is not easy. Thanks so much for sharing Kym. Give me three words that describe you.
Dallstream: Overcommitted, determined, and grateful.