A special thank you to Dentsply Sirona for sponsoring the Today’s RDH Honor Awards and for their unwavering commitment in supporting the profession of dental hygiene.
The blue-and-white van is easy to spot on the streets of Denver. The elliptical logo for Dental At Your Door stands out high on the blue rear side of the van. After almost five years, the vehicle is a common sight in the parking lots of homeless shelters, centers for children, teenagers, and battered women, work release programs, substance abuse centers, correctional facilities, assisted living facilities, and private homes for homebound patients.
This was the vision for Jennifer Geiselhofer, RDH, a 22-year veteran in the profession, and one of the three recipients of the 2019 Today’s RDH Honor Awards. She is an independent hygienist who, instead of searching for the underserved in Colorado’s rural areas, targeted patients in the urban confines of Denver, which has observed its population growing by 20 percent during the last decade.
“We go wherever we are needed, whether it’s inside the largest men’s homeless shelter that has sex offenders and ex-felons to youth shelters for teen mothers and their children,” Geiselhofer said. “Every day has surprises, excitement, and life-changing experiences for both our patients and our staff.”
The portable dental business is part of a nonprofit organization called Deserving Dental. Geiselhofer is the founder and executive director. Her team serves patients in 20 to 30 facilities.
Most of her career has been devoted to private practices in Colorado and Illinois. After graduating from Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, she practiced in the Chicago area for five years before relocating to Colorado. Most of her positions were aimed at gaining a variety of experiences as a temporary dental hygienist.
“I wanted to make sure I had enough experience to face the challenges I would encounter in the underserved communities,” Geiselhofer said. “I feel the experience I gained working for over 100 different dentists formed my knowledge base. Due to this experience, I am not intimidated or surprised by any oral case that presents itself.”
She has, though, carefully cultivated partners in the dental community.
“It was critical to develop a partnership with a dentist who has as much concern for the underserved population as I do,” she said. “I am very lucky to have collaborations with three dentists in different parts of the city − an oral surgeon, an ENT, and a head-and-neck oncology group who are 100% onboard with accepting my patients.”
She said that 207 of her patients followed up on her referrals for additional treatment during 2018.
“They all reported,” Geiselhofer said. “They never would have sought treatment on their own if they didn’t have their initial cleaning and checkup inside the shelter.”
Geiselhofer was nominated for the Today’s RDH Honor Awards by her staff. The staff of six includes three other dental hygienists. She said the team members share a motivation to provide care for the underserved.
The Dental At Your Door staff members “enjoy making a real difference in someone’s life. We improve health and overall confidence. Our patients get excited about applying for jobs and housing.”
Geiselhofer added, “We even had a patient shave off his overgrown mustache immediately after one of our hygienists did such a life-changing debridement. He didn’t want to hide his teeth anymore.”
She believes the hygienists also enjoy “being out in the field” for a change of pace. “It takes a lot of dedication and compassion for my staff to work all day at their dental office and then join me in a homeless shelter until 10 p.m.”
In retrospect, Geiselhofer acknowledges the biggest challenges in establishing her independent practice were obtaining the necessary credentials for insurance companies and Medicaid. She also worked tirelessly introducing herself to large nonprofit organizations in Denver, gradually establishing relationships that would allow Dental At Your Door to provide care inside the facilities. She also certified her business with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
The challenges still continue five years later, though. “My biggest challenge currently is business management. Hygiene school doesn’t teach you about payroll and business management systems. I recently hired a firm to handle that so I can spend more time in the shelters,” Geiselhofer said.
A video and photographs of a charity excursion to Mayreau in the Grenadines are proudly displayed on the website for Dental At Your Door. She took her own equipment to apply Silver Diamine Fluoride and perform preventive oral hygiene for the island’s residents.