Emilie Springer: Wrapped in a Smile
I’m interested in talking with Elizabeth Raedel because by title, dental hygienist, her position seems so simple it’s easily overlooked as essential. But, she’s kind and gentle and my young daughter was comfortable getting her teeth cleaned. My interview with Elizabeth was similar: she has a very authentic interest in the position. She caught my attention: authenticity in a Homer woman who found her way back to an occupation here with a story to tell.
At the beginning of the exam Elizabeth carefully explains what she’s doing, “I’m going to put you in the spotlight now to make sure I can see all of your teeth. Now, bring your tongue all the way up to the roof of your mouth.” She explains x-rays of the adolescent mouth, the pattern of the “deciduous teeth.”
That was the other word that initially caught my attention for story, “deciduous” and how casually it can be used in different contexts. Language connects us to the environment: natural or constructed and I think that bridge is worth exploring to examine the links.
I ask her why she enjoys showing young patients their exams: “I love doing it because young kids are in mixed dentition, they have their baby or deciduous teeth. The adult dentition is forming underneath and their panoramic images and show them how tooth development works. When they see it, they have more questions and are more intrigued. It's really exciting to help educate about what's going on in their body.”
Elizabeth talks about how she got started in this occupation. “I thought I wanted to be a nurse got my CNA license when I moved back to Homer,” she explains. “I found a position as a dental assistant for Dr. Marley where the office hours worked best with daycare. I started working there and fell in love with dentistry. It was an amazing opportunity. Eventually, I started training with the Dental Hygiene program in Anchorage.”
“I like dentistry because patients come in with a problem and leave in a better position than when they came in. It’s an instant gratification of being able to help somebody,” she explains her career choice.
She’s treated patients from one to one hundred and notes age range as a feature that’s “rewarding,” too. “I love being part of the whole process of people. Oral health is more than oral health. It's systemic health. It has a lot to do with people's perceptions of themselves, their self-confidence and I like being a part of that,” Elizabeth explains.
Without mention of the current state of the world where most people wear hygiene masks, she continues: “in our culture, so much is wrapped up in our smile. When somebody smiles, it’s one of the first impressions you get. But, it’s not just the big, bright white smile. It’s more than that: nutrition, self-confidence.”
We talk about memories from other Dental offices of Homer in the past: the fish tanks in Dr. Todd’s office, for example.
At the end of the cleaning appointment she says to the nine-year-old: “Do you want to get really tall one more time since you’re sitting in my chair? It’s like an amusement park in the dentist office! We’re lucky here! We have private entertainment.”
And, at the end of conversation she talks about what it’s like to live where she grew up: “I love the sense of community that’s still present,” she says.
We’re lucky here.