Decades of Dental Hygiene: Tourdot’s Journey Notable for the Variety of Adventures

Photo courtesy of Fran Tourdot (pictured on left with her non-profit Illumident, Inc. co-founder Kathy Vom Brack)

History is defined as the study of past events that are connected with someone or something. Have you ever given a thought to the history of dental hygiene? So much can be learned from the dental hygienists who came before us. A wealth of knowledge and experiences are available for those who’d like to know!

I had the pleasure of interviewing dental hygienist, Fran Tourdot, for this first in a series of interviews titled, “Decades of Dental Hygiene.”

Fran, at the young age of 82, has had a fantastic career that branched out on a variety of paths. Boredom with her profession was never experienced! She is still going strong. It was truly inspiring to get to know Fran in greater depth.

Jensen: Fran, tell me a bit about your family background?

Tourdot: I was born in Detroit, Michigan. I had three siblings. We were raised in New York, but I lived most of my adult life in the Chicago area — although 25 years was in Missouri. I lived on a farm in Missouri with my husband and children. I have been blessed with four children and four step-children. And six grandchildren!

Jensen: Where did you go to dental hygiene school?

Tourdot: I went to Loyola University in Chicago. The program was called the Dental Hygiene Education Program. We were taught expanded functions! I graduated in 1975. I was 37 years old and had four kids when I started.

I actually had an instructor tell me I should be home with my kids. But I knew I was in the right place and pushed forward. I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. Teaching is exactly what being a dental hygienist is all about. Loyola trained us to do periodontal treatments, and a new program started where a dental student and a dental hygiene student worked together in the periodontal department. I carried this protocol over into private practice.

A “prophy” cost $25. My instrument kit was $600, and tuition was $2,200 a year. I wore white uniforms. I wore a cap for about the first six months after graduation. I still have my cap!

Jensen:  Tell me about your career highlights?

Tourdot: I have been fortunate to continue doing exciting things in our profession. I have worked in several periodontal practices. I had only briefly seen an ultrasonic in school. A dentist I worked with really showed me how to use it effectively. This technology has come a long way since the 1970s! Back when I started in private practice, patients just paid the dentist in cash at the end of their visit.

I was a lab instructor at Loyola University in the periodontal department. I taught scaling techniques to dental students. In the early 1980s, everyone changed their personal protective equipment protocols − that is when wearing gloves and masks really became standard of care.

While living in Missouri, I taught at the distance education program with St. Louis Community College Dental Hygiene Program. They hired me after I got my bachelor’s degree at the age of 65. My close friend, Dr. Esther Wilkins, strongly recommended that the school hire me, and they did! While I was president of the Missouri Dental Hygienists’ Association, I worked to have Dr. Wilkins speak at our meetings. She was a true friend.

I also did some wonderful work with Americorp/VISTA and the rural county health departments. We provided school visits and assisted with oral care for first through third-grade students. The decay rate was reduced from 36 percent to 6 percent in just two years. I am very proud of this work.

I also worked with the National Foundation of Dentistry for the Handicapped. I coordinated visits with the dental van and saw homebound patients and was able to then schedule visits by a dentist.

Jensen: Fran, you have done some amazing work in our profession. Let’s redirect for a minute. Are you ready for some fun questions?

Tourdot: Sure!

Jensen: What do you do for fun? What do you like to read? Your favorite book? Favorite TV show? Are you a social media fan?

Tourdot: I love playing cards and playing the horses! Yes, off-track betting. I have four solitaire games that I play nonstop. It is important to keep the brain active.

My favorite books are anything about Catherine the Great. What a woman! I love mysteries. My favorite TV show is The Big Bang Theory. I could not live without social media. Facebook does steal my time away, but I must have my iPhone for emails and texts. I love texting!

Jensen: OK, back to dental hygiene. Do you have a special favorite patient story?

Tourdot: While I was teaching in the Distance Education Dental Hygiene Program, there was a young man from Nigeria who was a student. The student, his wife, and eight-year-old son were all patients at the clinic. They were a lovely family. They knew they would eventually have to go back to Nigeria. The country was very unsettled at that time. It was a stressful time for this family. I was happy to be able to provide them with oral health care.

Jensen: What more would like to see be done within our profession?

Tourdot: Dental hygienists need to be more involved as primary caregivers for oral care for children. They have this type of care in New Zealand where dental hygienists work independently in schools and see children for basic dental care. Also, so much more dental health education needs to be given to seniors.

Jensen: Fran, can you expand on oral health education for seniors? I know this topic is close to your heart.

Tourdot: I am the executive director and co-founder − along with my late friend Kathy Conti Vom Brack − of Illumident, Inc. which is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit that promotes preventive oral care, offers oral-cancer screenings, and provides oral health education programs to older adults.

We worked to form a business plan, hire an attorney and an accountant, and started applying for grants. We started with two volunteers — we now have over 30 dental hygienists, dentists and assistants involved and provide well over 75 programs every year. Seniors love learning! We take the time to connect the dots for them on how their oral health is related to their overall health. We visit assisted living communities, churches, and local senior groups. I love doing this work!

Jensen: That is so wonderful! As you know, my heart is with older adults as well. The clients that I see weekly to provide oral care reside in memory care communities. They are all in such need of better oral care. Fran, what advice would you give your new grad self? If you could tell yourself something that you have learned from being in the profession for close to 45 years, what would that piece of advice be?

Tourdot: Further your education right away! Get those advanced degrees immediately. Don’t wait.

Jensen: Give me three words that describe you.

Tourdot: Talkative, energetic, faithful friend!

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Mary Jensen, RDH, MS, has practiced dental hygiene for 38 years, including three years in Switzerland. She is the Lead Oral Care Specialist with the HyLife Oral Health Alliance—a network of dental hygienists that provide weekly oral hygiene care to dependent seniors. Most of Mary’s weekly clients reside in Memory Care Communities. Along with her passion for the overall health of seniors, is her passion for mission trips. Mary has competed over a dozen trips with Alliance for Smiles. AFS provides free cleft lip and palate surgeries. Mary has provided dental hygiene care on four continents and six countries. She is the recipient of the: Young Caring Clinician Award 2015; Volunteer of the Year Alliance for Smiles 2016; Philips Heart to Hands Award 2017.