In the world of oral care, dental hygienists, such as Julie Kroeker, RDH, spend time one-on-one with patients providing preventative care. Most times, before the end of every appointment, hygienists also end up discussing life, forming a relationship and creating a new friend for the dental practice. Kroeker shares the secret behind 39 years of building successful patient connections.
A registered dental hygienist for nearly four decades, she has worked at the same dental practice in McAllen, Texas for the past 27 years. Growing up with a father who was a dentist, Kroeker was exposed to and fell in love with the dental profession at a very young age.
Working with him was amazing, he had such a love for his patients. Every one of them was treated with great respect and kindness He had a passion for what he did.”Julie Kroeker, RDH, on the introduction to dentistry she received from her father.
What prompted Julie Kroeker, RDH, to consider dentistry as a career path?
At the age of just 13, Kroeker was trained as a dental assistant and from that point she knew she wanted to spend her life in the dental profession. What encouraged her on that career path?
Among the endless reasons Kroeker loves being a dental hygienist, her favorite is the people. As a dental hygienist she treats patients and educates them about their dental health, but establishes a connection on a personal level. She believes everyone needs encouragement and takes time provide it for those in her care.
My greatest reward as a practicing Dental Hygienist has come from my patients: their beautiful smiles, their sweet thank yous and, most of all, being told what a blessing I have been in their lives, because they all have blessed me too.”Julie Kroeker, RDH, her greatest reward as a dental hygienist
Why does Julie Kroeker, RDH, feel strongly about dedicating time outside the office to dental education?
In Kroeker’s case, making an impact on the oral health of others requires time outside the office. Over the years, she has:
- Educated and encouraged youth on oral health.
Kroeker has dedicated much time to hosting a series of oral health presentations at local elementary schools and conducting role plays with high school-age special education students to encourage them to visit the dentist.
- Expanded her skills to improve communication.
Kroeker mastered a second language – Spanish – to communicate fluently with her largely Hispanic patient demographic.
Over the span of her career, Kroeker has experienced many successes, including an honor as one of the Crest Oral-B Pros in the Profession in 2012. Through the program, Crest Oral-B rewarded deserving professionals, as nominated by their peers, who truly made an impact on the oral health of others by supporting causes important to them and their communities.
Know a dental hygienist who deserves recognition?
- Submit a nomination for the Incisal Edge 2023 “Hygienist of the Year” award, a program aimed at recognizing innovative and passionate hygienists in the dental industry.
- Submit a nomination for the Lucy Hobbs Project Award. Learn about the six award categories that honor inspirational women in dentistry.
What issues did dental hygienist Julie Kroeker, RDH, observe during the pandemic and how did she support her patients?
From the Covid-19 pandemic evolved a number of issues for oral health care patients and providers.
Kroeker explained a few she observed and how she supported her patients during what she described as the most challenging time of her career:
- Dry mouth and dehydration.
Based on PPE usage, patient education and encouragement dialogue changed drastically, said Kroeker. Explaining to patients that masks can cause dry mouth and dehydration was something new for Kroeker and her coworkers.|
- The need to reaffirm the importance of maintaining preventative dentistry.
Kroeker reaffirmed the importance of preventative care to her patients and explained the risk to teeth and gums, if not cared for properly.
- “Covid-clenching syndrome”
Kroeker noted an increase in clenching of the jaw after masks were introduced, which she referred to as “Covid-clenching syndrome”. She said this led to headaches and broken teeth among patients.
I noticed an increased fear, depression and anxiety with my patients in the office. The whole process of educating and comforting my patients changed, but with all that happened… I have seen a new appreciation in my patients for their dental health.”Julie Kroeker, RDH, discusses the challenges her patients experienced during the pandemic