For more than 20 years, Stacey Zelesnick, RDH, PDHP, has taken pride in helping even the grumpiest and most anxious patients relax and enjoy their visit.
Now a Provider Network Ambassador for Delta Dental, Zelesnick serves as a point of contact for dentists in the greater Philadelphia area providing outreach, education and face-to-face visits with our network dentists and staff. With her deep knowledge of the field, her understanding of dentists’ and hygienists’ concerns and her cheerful, easy-going way of putting others at ease, she’s our Dental Health Partner of the Month for March.
We caught up with Zelesnick to discuss her background, her work with kids and some of the issues hygienists and dentists are now facing.
I had a childhood dentist who was a family friend, so I was always comfortable going to the dentist. However, I was always the one with the cavities when my sister and I left! That being said, I just really enjoyed watching everyone work. I always thought, “Wow, I think I’d like to do that when I get older.” And sure enough, here I am!
As a school dental hygienist, I would typically go in and screen over 200 kids, checking their mouths to make sure everything looked okay. If it didn’t, I’d call their parents and talk about getting the kids the care they needed. As a clinical hygienist, a typical day is seeing patients every 50 minutes: x-rays, oral cancer screenings, sealants, perio evaluations, fluoride, all kinds of stuff. It’s very demanding on that 50-minute schedule.
I’m the point of contact for all providers in the Greater Philadelphia Area. I’m there to help resolve issues, answer questions, do term interventions and educate on Provider Tools, Virtual Consult, Quality Management, provider awareness campaigns and Medicare compliance and assessments. Each day is different, and that’s what I love: a new day, new challenges, new things to learn and new providers to help.
I’m proud of the years I dedicated to patient care, so I do make some offices aware I am a dental hygienist. They quickly realize I can relate to their frustration, exhaustion and feeling of depletion all too well. And not to mention, those feelings were present before COVID, staffing issues and severe inflation costs!
I’m beyond happy to dedicate my years in the dental profession to helping the providers and their staff in any way to make their lives just a little easier.
Two words: sugar intake. Every age, every grade, I talked about sugar, whether it was how to read labels or how to convert grams of sugar to teaspoons. I tried to help them to understand by showing them visually how much sugar is in their favorite cereal or in that chocolate milk they have with lunch. I’m a visual person, and that’s how I learn, but I feel that’s so important to see.
Things like that make my day! One time, I was cleaning a mom’s teeth, and her little girl was watching, a little skeptical because she had never had her own teeth cleaned before. When we were done, I let her ride in the chair, and I was showing her some of the tools I work with. When I picked up some toothpaste, she said, “My mommy only likes wine-flavored toothpaste.”
Helping kids get free care if they qualified for it. I had over 300 students one year get free care. That in itself is rewarding. It wasn’t just cleanings. Some would need oral surgery; some would need braces. That felt really good to help them get care they couldn’t get otherwise.
And just establishing a relationship with so many patients was a daily reward for me. I loved marking all of life’s major milestones together, whether it was the patients’ or mine. It’s fantastic, the relationships you develop. You’re really close and working one on one so you can really get to know somebody, and that in and of itself is quite rewarding.
I honestly love a challenge. But a challenge for me clinically would be trying to win a patient over who was just clearly unhappy to be at the dentist, to try to make their dental experience better. I always tried to welcome those patients who weren’t the nicest when they walked in.
I was shocked to hear that. I think hygienists left their positions during the pandemic for a number of reasons: whether it was due to not feeling safe, or maybe they had kids who were home learning virtually for a year and they didn’t have child care or somebody to help with that, or they had elderly patients and they were afraid they would expose them. All those things went into play. They say that now one in every three dentists is looking to hire a hygienist and enrollments are down for dental hygiene students. It’s interesting. I don’t have a solution for that. Being a hygienist is hard work. Benefits aren’t always the greatest because a lot of hygienists are part-time. They’re parents. They try to juggle a lot. It can be a physically exhausting job.
I didn’t know that was the theme, but I love that! I think your overall health is so important, whether it’s mental or physical. When people want to get healthier, they think, “Oh, I’m going to exercise,” or “I’m going to meditate,” which is great. But I feel, with my job, it begins with your mouth, not just with what we eat but with oral hygiene. If you don’t feel like going to the gym one day, don’t beat yourself up over it. But floss, because that one little thing can make your health better. If it can give you a healthier heart and make you live longer, why not? And it’s kind of simple to do.
I love to travel, whether it’s with friends or with my family. I feel I have a lot of time to make up for after staying at home for the last two years! Mostly I just enjoy experiencing things with my kids. They’re 13 and 14, and I think they still kind of like my husband and me? I feel like our days are numbered. We still don’t totally embarrass them. Until then, we’ll continue to take advantage of road trips and vacations. Anything that involves them and making memories is great because it all just goes so darn fast.
Congratulations to Stacey Zelesnick on being named our Dental Health Partner of the Month! If you are in the greater Philadelphia area and have questions about Provider Tools, Virtual Consult, Quality Management or anything else related to Delta Dental, you can reach out to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.