Winston Churchill’s quote that “...we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” are words that Julie Stage-Rosenberg knows by heart, and a sentiment she lives by. As a Professor in the dental hygiene program, Stage-Rosenberg has watched the program grow almost from its inception to where it is today.
“I’m very proud of our program,” she said, and cites her experience designing its curriculum, clinical policies and procedures. She has also taught a majority of its course offerings. Stage-Rosenberg estimates that over the past 20 years, she has taught over 200 dental hygiene students at TMCC. Program graduates “...are mostly living here in the area, having families, buying homes and doing well,” she said.
There are several aspects of dental hygiene that have engaged Stage-Rosenberg for so long: “it’s a preventative-based profession. You can educate people about the oral-systemic link and the importance of having a healthy mouth. It’s not just about your teeth—it’s about your overall well being.” This is key to understanding Stage-Rosenberg’s work: it is about the ways we can make a positive impact on the lives of those in our communities through advocacy and education.
Why Dental Hygiene
Stage-Rosenberg grew up in a household where helping others was a part of daily life. “We were taught to work hard, to study, and to use our unique talents and gifts to make the world a better place,” she said. “It was really beneficial for me to see that a small amount of your time using your skills and your particular gifts can really help communities in ways you wouldn’t have thought.”
Stage-Rosenberg remembers accompanying her father to the VA Hospital where they played Bingo with veterans when she was five years old, and working with her mother on projects for the American Cancer Society—knocking on neighborhood doors to solicit donations or folding napkins for a fundraising luncheon.
She discovered at an early age that dental hygiene would enable her to perform important work while giving back to others. “I always had kind dentists growing up. And then, in high school, I had a neighbor going to Dental Hygiene school at USC,” said Stage-Rosenberg. “She came home with an instrument kit and we sat down on her bed and looked at shiny, silvery objects. I remember thinking: ‘those are cool.’ It was a plus that dental hygiene is a caring, helping profession.”
Years later, dental hygiene would be the catalyst for philanthropy that emanates from Stage-Rosenberg’s knowledge of the profession, touching our community in several unexpected ways.
Dental Hygiene Program at TMCC
Stage-Rosenberg worked in private dental offices and public health for twenty years before coming to TMCC—yet teaching was always a part of her repertoire. “I did a lot of peer mentoring in school because I really enjoyed being able to impart knowledge, and to take complicated ideas or concepts, and to break them down—to make them interesting and fun. When I first got out of dental hygiene school, my instructors recognized that I had a gift for teaching, and hired me to teach part time with them.”
When an opportunity to teach in the dental hygiene program at TMCC surfaced, Stage-Rosenberg applied. The rest, as they say, is history. Today, Stage-Rosenberg’s role has evolved to include her role as the “Community Liaison," bridging the academic experience with partnerships with other community entities. This is important because working with diverse demographics of those in need of care—such as aging populations or those who live in rural communities—can offer graduates an opportunity for carving out and defining their place in the world. “You can make a larger impact if you do something on the community level than you can seeing patients one at a time from a single dental chair,” said Stage-Rosenberg. “Although, both are important.”
Reaching Out Beyond the Dental Chair
Stage-Rosenberg is an avid volunteer who gives her time to organizations that advocate and support needy populations both inside and outside of oral care in our community...and nationally. Several years ago, she attended a public health conference and sat next to the woman in charge of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, who asked Stage-Rosenberg if she would be willing to serve on their advisory board.
This chance meeting resulted in a webinar that has been used nationally to train dental providers on how to identify abuse and neglect in their adult patients. While dental hygienists are required to report such cases in children and the elderly, domestic violence among adults is not a mandated report. The training, however, offered information that dental professionals can use to identify victims, and to offer them support and resources. “It touched my heart—how could I say ‘no’ to that?” Stage-Rosenberg recalls.
Stage-Rosenberg also works with Head Start populations due to connections she made since coming to TMCC. Currently, she and her students work with 7-8 Early Head Start Centers and provide care for approximately 100 children each semester, screening their teeth for cavities or other problems and providing fluoride treatments. “I try to pull students into community events as often as I can to give them hands-on experience,” she said, citing an example of when she and her students administer care to 3-month old babies, who are a part of the Early Head Start program. “It’s not something they necessarily do in private practice. There are lots of patient management issues with babies. We sit on the floor, and hold them in our lap. It’s organized chaos at its finest.”
The students, she says, love working with the babies. And, they seem to be making a difference. “I’ve been doing this for nine years, and the amount of decay we are seeing has significantly gone down. The fluoride treatments definitely help. The campaigns to educate parents to establish a ‘dental home’—a place where they can seek dental care on a regular basis—is paying off.”
And it is paying off, literally. Children who are a part of the Early Head Start program are largely covered by Medicaid. A “mouth full of neglect” can become thousands of dollars worth of dental care, which for the very young, includes a hospital visit—that’s not only a large bill for taxpayers to foot, but one brought about by unnecessary pain and suffering.
Be the Change You Want to See in the World
Over the years, a number of former students have reached out to Stage-Rosenberg, thanking her for the work they completed alongside community organizations when they were students at TMCC. Several of these students report that they have started “Dentistry from the Heart” programs in the private practices where they work, meaning that they have encouraged their dentists to not only open their doors to children, but to other populations in need of care.
“A former student is the Traveling Tooth Fairy, which is the name of the portable dental hygiene services that she offers onsite to those in nursing homes or shut-ins,” said Stage-Rosenberg. “It took her a number of years to receive the necessary licenses to do this kind of work. Now, she cares for 20-30 clients in Northern Nevada that she visits on a rotating basis, treating them with mobile equipment. That one really touches my heart.”
Stage-Rosenberg recalls another student who moved to Oregon and who took part in the city’s water fluoridation campaign. “She said that the work I made them do in class conducting a fluoride debate was key in helping her advocate for her city to become fluoridated—which it did. She felt so empowered; this was a big personal win for her because it was a cause she was passionate about, and she translated that passion to action.”
For Stage-Rosenberg, dental hygiene is a profession that instills kindness, compassion and knowledge in its practitioners. In an age when we’re often disconnected from one another, working solely on computer screens, dental hygienists work face-to-face with their patients. “I try to instill the value of giving back in my everyday life and model that for my students. It’s become even more important to me now. I still want to make a difference.”
One thing is for sure: Stage-Rosenberg’s work has brightened not just one, but many smiles in our community... and that is a welcome change.