In the Eye of the Storm: Dental Professionals Help with Hurricane Relief

© Sasa Kadrijevic / Adobe Stock

Nearly eight months ago, North Carolina unwillingly welcomed Hurricane Florence at our doorstep – whether we were ready or not, she was coming! For days residents prepped, boarded, moved boats, secured livestock and stocked supplies. What began as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds over 140 MPH, mercifully lessened to a Category 1 as it made landfall near Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. The rain began as early as Sept 13 and made landfall a day later; the torrential rains lasted three full days with the storm crawling along at only 2-3 MPH.

Some areas received over 3 feet of rain, and when the rain stopped, the waters began to rise. Wide spread flooding across coastal and inland regions was devastating. Homes were flooded, wind-driven rain damaged roofs and home interiors, county farms were under water and livestock were in jeopardy. This paints just a small picture of the vast devastation to thousands of people and businesses affected.

Taking normal life for granted during this time, we learned how fast a 5-gallon water bucket fills under the rain spout in torrential rain (about 5 seconds if you are wondering) and wet hay (for horses) does get hot and literally steams because it becomes combustible. Taking a rain shower outside after two days really isn’t that bad- it’s sort of like camping and you get really creative about how to spend the evenings without cell or internet service (playing RISK by lantern light seemed to top the list).

Since then, eight long months of recovery efforts still continue. Beaches on our crystal coast, are still recovering, debris still evident on the sides of the road, and many homes remain vacant and tarped. Nonetheless, spring has arrived… and in an effort to continue moving forward and getting back in the saddle so to speak, I wanted to share some of the positive efforts put forth by individuals of the dental community in our home state of North Carolina, how dental professionals chose to serve, and a few interesting facts.

As recovery efforts took place, we thankfully had cell service, although limited. Text messages seemed to be our best source of communication. Facebook was an amazing resource! Since I am a faculty member at the local community college, I was trying to keep up with students and their families that had evacuated and those that chose to stay close to home. Our college family was spread thin, while some stayed at shelters, others crossed state lines, and just a few of us rode out the storm close to home.  A few dental hygiene students, crazy as we love them, took what was probably a memorable road trip to escape the storm and hunker down together; kids and all, as some had military spouses deployed and were alone.

Schools were closed, classes canceled, and within days our normal lives were not so normal; so what do dental hygienists do when the going gets tough? The tough get GOING! We volunteer! We take food to the linemen working so hard to restore power in dangerous conditions!

We reach out to companies who were generous to send us cases and cases of oral health care products that we put directly into the hands of LOCAL shelters and organizations! We collect scrubs to donate to any healthcare professional who needs them! Students collected food, toiletries, and bedding for those of their classmates in need.

It seems simplistic to think about a toothbrush at a time where was so much at stake, but to help put toothbrushes in the hands of many that lost everything was one thing that our dental community could control- when it was apparent nothing was in control! These generous donators had asked to remain anonymous from the start but were not shy when we asked for help. I arrived at my temporary home one day to find cases of products that filled my car for days. For about a month I was lugging toothpaste, toothbrushes, scrubs, or donations to a local non-profit organization Carteret Warriors for Recovery and our community college foundation and even our contractor.

During the last eight months, surely everyone affected had doubts that life would ever return to normal; even myself. It has been a slow and grueling process that is still not complete, but slowly students returned to the normal daily routine. We still laugh, cry, and bond as we share stories of Red Cross Shelters, road trips, and continue to see patients that suffered a devastating loss.

Spring is a glorious time of year here in Eastern North Carolina, flowers blooming, birds chirping, and pre-summer beach traffic is returning. Although we can still see the devastation on the beach dunes and homes that are still vacant, our dental hygiene student’s are preparing for graduation. It is a time to reflect on their time and growth in our program and enter our profession as health care professionals. Hopefully, those affected by Hurricane Florence will remember that their service to their profession goes way beyond the oral cavity; in the realism of disaster I am proud to say our dental hygiene community extended way beyond Eastern North Carolina and we have heard you!

The student chapter of ADHA at Coastal Carolina Community College, (Bethany Turner and Tiffany Ciampo Class Presidents) recently awarded a scholarship to the Carteret Warriors For Recovery as a way of giving back to their community! Carteret Warriors for Recovery graciously assisted residents of the Eastern Shore Community following the aftermath of Hurricane Florence which included helping the CCCC community rebuild! Great foundations to a wonderful career!

As I look back at photos of Hurricane Florence, before, during, and after, it reminds me that we were truly in the “eye of the storm.” This storm, even though devastating, showed the good in humanity; we learned humility, patience, and even learned to ask for help. We remained vigilant in our quest to help others. As health care providers we are in the business of helping people and saving lives. Hurricane Florence just helped us see it through rose-colored glasses.

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Erika Spring, RDH, MEd.
Erika Spring, RDH, MEd, is the Founder and Owner of Spring Innovative. Her mission is to help hygienists and their practices develop a hygiene department that delivers cutting edge and lifesaving care to patients. She believes if practice members individually and collectively commit to continual improvement, then clinical excellence will be the natural outcome. As a practicing hygienist, Erika learned how communication and systems go hand-in-hand to increase case acceptance. She translates this into her teaching, whether as a professor or from the podium, to help others know how to deliver clinical excellence in the real world. Her true joy is hearing people she has coached say they are more productive and find their work more fulfilling and fun! On a personal note, her free time is spent on the beaches of the Crystal Coast of NC, most often on horseback.