Dental Hygiene Ventures: Hygienist Finds Path in Nutritional Counseling

Dental hygienists who are lifelong learners, science nerds, and thrive on changes and challenges are amazed at what can be accomplished. Courtney Beth Anderson, RDH, a 2009 AAS graduate of Harper Community College in Palatine, Illinois, believes in going the distance with her career, and she is frequently undertaking new challenges.

As a child with “bucky teeth,” Courtney didn’t smile much and knew that affected her upbringing. Once orthodontic treatment was completed, nothing could contain her infectious smile and the feeling of confidence and joy that goes along with it. This began an unending journey of wanting to make others feel good and self-assured with their smiles.

She started with dental assisting at Elgin Community College. A professor suggested surgical assisting, and Courtney grew to love it. She became enamored with implant placement and all the science behind it.

“Then I realized how little I was being paid,” she said and knew another avenue would be needed to accomplish all her dreams.

Asking Questions

A transition to assisting in a periodontal office provided answers. The change allowed Courtney to observe many hygienists in a large practice setting. She asked lots of questions and received lots of feedback. She discovered that hygienists were “not attached at the hip to the doctor” and was invigorated by the realization, leading to an application at Harper Community College’s dental hygiene school.

“Hygiene school was a huge challenge, one of the hardest things I ever did,” she remembers.

After graduation, she wanted multiple opportunities to discover what dental practice arena would be the best fit. Courtney chose to work as a temp for a year. This gave her flexibility and taught her to adapt to many different work situations.

Personal Health Influenced Career

While filling in for maternity leave in a periodontal office, Courtney began to suffer from intense body pain. She traveled through the medical community for a diagnosis, but it left her frustrated and unable to perform hygiene full time.

The perio office valued Courtney as a team member and transitioned her into part-time hygiene and a part-time clinical coordinator.

She said, “This was a cool blend of both hygiene and education. This focus taught the patient responsibility for their own health.”

However, the pain continued. Ultrasounds, imaging, neurology, and the constant feeling of fullness in her legs led to the realization that less sitting and more mobility was needed.  Unhappy in her personal life and with her physical condition, Courtney knew that she needed more and came to a point through talk-therapy and turning inward that she realized she was putting the “responsibility of her happiness on others.”

This time of self-growth gave Courtney an awareness of overall health, connection to the world and nature. It was a time of goal setting and achieving an increased level of health. The first goal was to use her expertise in implants to teach a course in dental implant maintenance. This was a year-long endeavor to share her vast knowledge with others.

The next goal was a challenging position as continuing education director at a large oral surgery practice, including marketing duties and event coordinating. This role was a giant leap and gave Courtney exposure to many different offices and settings, sharing the educational opportunities.

All of this experience is how Courtney discovered that the dental practice needs “strong, positive leadership and all share the same goal.” She was ready to be a leader and in control of her own position.

Gut Health Expert

This led to a challenge of clean eating for 30 days to increase gut health and decrease anxiety. This was “eye-opening” as she learned, “I need to be surrounded by positivity for my own personal growth.” This challenge led Courtney to the belief that “food is medicine,” and we need increased compassion for ourselves and an increased connection to each other.

Courtney stepped back from hygiene to follow this new path full-time. She began to help people understand that overall wellness comes from within and from what you put in your body. She said this entrepreneurial spirit, therapy, and connection of gut health to anxiety and depression were truly life-changing and intensely invigorating.

Courtney’s belief in following your dreams, traveling your own path, and her taking chances attitude was inspiring. It developed into her discovering that we all need to love ourselves from the inside out. It sounded like an appropriate time for some serious goal setting and a plan for how to make that happen. Courtney believes listing goals was helpful. Her desire to be a philanthropist, have the ability to make an income (“earn to give”), and the need to volunteer with multiple nonprofits, including animal-advocacy, environmental awareness, and survivors of domestic abuse, headed her list.

For example, a fellow hygienist recommended that she watch the 2012 documentary “Blackfish.” She said the expose about the sea park industry led to a true “awakening” of compassion, empathy, and sharing. Courtney has “become a voice for the voiceless” with her extensive activism for both animals, as well as for the earth and survivors of domestic abuse.

Education Helps Guide the Way

Courtney returned to temping, appreciating the flexibility to grow her business. The nutritional aspect of the business was the most fulfilling for Courtney. She developed a passion for health and fitness, using exercise and nutrition as medicine. She indicated that her love of science, data, and fact-gathering that was fostered in dental hygiene education prepared her for the new career path.

This education connection helps hygienists understand themselves and how to increase their own personal health. Gut health is a new frontier, and nutrition is where it begins. Prebiotics and probiotics affect the oral flora.

Courtney is now seeking certification in nutrition coaching. She believes in helping people learn to change behaviors they’ve wanted to change yet haven’t been successful independently. Habits are also changed for benefits toward overall health, including for success, sleep, movement, stress coping, oral health, etc. Courtney said the certification is an investment in herself and a continuation of knowledge to better her own health and that of her clients and patients.

Wellness coaching is next for her. Courtney appreciates the holistic approach to overall health and believes strongly that “the body is designed to heal itself.” Courtney has learned that food, thoughts, and who you choose to surround yourself with affect your health. Finding her purpose, looking within, and asking the hard questions and then honestly answering them changed her entire thought process.

Dentistry can be a very negative experience. Dental professionals often do not find encouraging, nurturing environments, and are left feeling unappreciated, undervalued, and stressed. For Courtney, using her dental hygiene education and science background enabled her to morph into a positive role model sharing how to love yourself and others. Courtney believes we all have the ability to be a positive force in the world. It’s just a matter of finding your passion and sharing it. Do the things that make you feel invigorated, make time to care for yourself, food is medicine, movement is essential, and sleep well.

Our hygiene education has prepared us well to educate about oral health as well as systemic health. Read the journals, attend classes, and use your continuing education opportunities to discover the latest techniques and science to continually strive to be the healthiest, happiest version of yourself.

Courtney can be reached at

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Debbi Viger, RDH, BHS
Debra Viger, RDH, BHS, has 30 years of clinical dental hygiene, dental office management, and treatment coordination experience. Embracing a complete approach to efficient dental office operations, she successfully encourages offices to work at peak performance levels with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm. She is past president of McHenry County Dental Hygiene Society and past chair of continuing education. She has published in both RDH and Access Magazine.

Debra is currently a Director of Outreach, teaching daily home care techniques, nutrition for dental health, and desensitization for the developmentally delayed and autistic community. Through her program, she has demonstrated that all patients are special and need unique treatment options. This programming is easily shared including the video training. Reach out for further information to nviger8 [at]