Alyssa Aberle, MBA, RDH, has spent her dental hygiene career working with several local nonprofit organizations including Kids In Need of Dentistry, Salud Family Health Centers, Colorado Orthodontic Foundation, and STRIDE Community Health Center. Through her work within these organizations, she decided to increase her knowledge of business operations and management to complement her clinical background. A 2009 graduate of the University of Colorado’s (CU) Dental Hygiene Program, Aberle earned a Master of Business Administration from the Leeds School of Business at CU Boulder in 2013.
Over the past 11 years, Aberle has overseen a school-based dental program, worked in the medical/dental integration program, practiced clinical hygiene within the dental clinic setting, and served as an infection control coordinator.
Recently, she began working for a dental hygienist-owned mobile practice serving temporary housing shelters and substance use transitional housing and rehabilitation residences. In addition to her clinical role, Aberle works part-time for the Colorado Dental Hygienists’ Association as the executive director.
She has played a variety of roles in the professional association and is passionate about advocacy, advancing the profession of dental hygiene, and increasing access to preventive dental care for underserved communities.
Q. What advice would you give dental hygienists who are interested in public health?
A. As a dental hygiene student, I knew that I wanted to work in community and public health. I was eager to volunteer at community events and built excellent relationships with some local nonprofit organizations and our state public health department.
I would encourage dental hygienists who are interested in public health to reach out to local and state associations as well as nonprofit organizations to learn about volunteer opportunities.
Many organizations offer an abundance of ways for those interested in supporting their mission to help out. These volunteer opportunities are great ways to gain a deeper understanding of your community’s needs, the key organizations and stakeholders trying to create local oral health solutions, and potential gaps in services that you may be able to help address.
I would also encourage dental hygienists to become involved in their state dental hygiene association and the advocacy work happening at the state level.
Access to care is a legislative priority for many states and there is a great opportunity to expand the dental hygiene scope of practice and discover creative models to provide preventive care to communities.
Q. What do you see in the future of the dental hygiene profession?
A. I see dental hygienists really embracing our role as prevention specialists. I believe that dental hygienists are educated to be able to contribute so much to improve patient outcomes, both in the dental office as well as in other settings. We have a deep understanding of how prevention can set patients up to live longer and healthier lives and the role their oral health plays in their overall health. I hope that as our healthcare system shifts toward quality-based care and prevention-focused care, dental hygienists are at the forefront of this movement. Working at the top of their scope, dental hygienists can help bridge the gap between patients and other healthcare providers.
I also hope to see more dental hygienists pursue higher education and further their careers through advanced degrees in dental hygiene and other disciplines. Elevating the education level of our profession helps to build credibility in the dental industry, with our colleagues in other healthcare professions, and with the public. Achieving higher levels of education creates more well-rounded dental hygienists and advances our profession for generations to come.
Q. What does your work encompass as the Organization for Safety, Asepsis, and Prevention (OSAP) Project Lead in preventing nosocomial pneumonia?
A. OSAP recently joined with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and disseminate a tool kit, including action steps and corresponding resources, on the importance of oral hygiene in hospital settings for the prevention of pneumonia. The workgroup is composed of dental hygienists with experience in multidisciplinary settings.
As the project lead, my role is to facilitate group discussions, organize the literature review, and lead the group in completing tasks assigned as part of the contract. The toolkit developed from this project will initiate interdisciplinary discussions, emphasize the importance of preventive oral health services in hospital settings, and highlight the role of oral health in overall health.
Q. What impact does the application of silver diamine fluoride and interim therapeutic restorations have on vulnerable populations?
A. For me, silver diamine fluoride has been a game changer and increases the options I can provide for my patients. There is finally a minimally invasive (and inexpensive) treatment option that can be applied by a dental hygienist (or dental assistant in some states) which can arrest AND prevent decay. Silver diamine fluoride has so many benefits for patients, especially patients who lack access to dental care.
Silver diamine fluoride can be the definitive treatment plan, or part of a larger restorative plan, depending on the needs and priorities of the patient. Silver diamine fluoride has literally saved hundreds of teeth for my patients in community health settings. However, sometimes we still need more than silver diamine fluoride to help restore function to teeth with large areas of decay. Interim therapeutic restorations (ITR), which dental hygienists are allowed to place in Colorado, provide us additional opportunities to address restorative needs in community-based settings. ITR are also known as the atraumatic restorative technique (ART) or silver-modified atraumatic restorative technique (SMART restorations) when combined with silver diamine fluoride.
By allowing dental hygienists to practice these expanded functions, we are able to address dental needs earlier and more cost-effectively, provide patients with culturally sensitive care in their own communities, facilitate referral relationships with dentists and other healthcare providers, and keep patients out of the emergency department. I am very proud to have played a part in the legislative process for bills to allow silver diamine fluoride application and ITR placement by dental hygienists in Colorado.