As the associate director of Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, Matt Crespin, MPH, RDH, directs both the oral health and early childhood literacy programs along with providing operational support to the organization. The oral health program includes Wisconsin Seal-A-Smile, Healthy Smiles for Mom and Baby, and Wisconsin Oral Health Coalition. Under Crespin’s direction, Wisconsin Seal-A-Smile has grown to serve nearly 850 schools across Wisconsin. He has increased funding at the alliance through local, state, and federal grants and coordinated efforts to keep the city of Milwaukee fluoridated, which impacts nearly 1 million residents.
In 2015, Crespin was elected as the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA) District VII trustee and, in 2017, he was elected ADHA vice president.
A dedicated public health advocate, Crespin received the Wisconsin Public Health Association’s Distinguished Service to Public Health Award and the Wisconsin Dental Hygienists’ Association Carol B. Benson Award for Outstanding Service to Dental Hygiene in 2016.
What drew you to public health as a career?
I have always been interested in public health, but it wasn’t until I was working in the field that I really fell in love with it. The concept of working at the 30,000-foot level on issues like policy change is what really drives me. To see the changes implemented and programs developed as a result of collaborative work to improve health policy is so exciting. While I’m not a “wet fingered” dental hygienist anymore, I continue to learn about the evolving nature of our work and use that knowledge and my previous experiences to improve oral health on a systems level to ensure more people have access to important services. When I started down this path 12 years ago as a project manager with our organization, I fell in love. I’ve never looked back and enjoy what I do more and more every day. I have found something that feels nothing like work to me and I love making a difference at the local, state, and national levels.
Explain what a typical work day looks like for you.
There really isn’t a typical day in my world, which is one of the reasons I love what I do so much. On any given day, I could be working with my oral health team at our offices in Milwaukee; driving across Wisconsin to visit with one of our nearly 40 school-based sealant programs and their providers, assisting them in a variety of ways; or meeting with legislators and decision makers on issues that range from oral health access to Medicaid payment reform to community water fluoridation. I also attend state and national meetings to expand my knowledge base on various topics or to speak and share the best practices and learnings that I’ve obtained in Wisconsin.
One lesser known fact about me is that the organization I work for— Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin, which is affiliated with Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin—has six other initiatives outside of oral health. I oversee all of our early childhood literacy programming, which includes the Reach Out and Read program, the state affiliate of the national evidence- based model that uses books at pediatric well-child visits to assess development. We also do work in asthma, injury prevention, and emergency medical services for children. Some of my time is dedicated to working with staff in those areas, as well providing operational support and assisting with personal and professional development.
What advice would you give men who are considering dental hygiene as a career?
Stop considering it and jump right in. Dental hygiene is a great profession that can lead to many different careers both clinically and outside the four walls of a clinic. There are so many opportunities evolving right now that—male or female—I think it’s a very exciting time to be a dental hygienist. I recently led a coalition of partners in Wisconsin in changing a state statute that allows dental hygienists to directly access patients in new settings, such as nursing homes, daycare settings, and physician offices. Integration and providing care in new and unique ways are so very galvanizing to me and that’s why I think it is such an exciting time to be a dental hygienist.
You are very involved in the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). Explain your involvement and why it is important to you.
I’m currently the ADHA vice president and I intend to run for president elect this coming year at the ADHA Annual Conference in Columbus, Ohio. Many, if not most of the opportunities I have had are a direct result of my involvement with ADHA and happened well before I became a national leader. One example was my appointment by then President Denise Bowers to the American Dental Association’s Council on Scientific Affairs Expert Panel to review and make new and updated recommendations on the clinical application of sealants. Being able to participate in this systematic review and serve as a contributing author to this great body of sealant literature was an immense honor and learning experience. I’ve since been appointed to serve in a similar capacity to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry panel that just released guidelines on the use of silver diamine fluoride. Both of these opportunities and many others have allowed me to meet, work alongside, and network with experts from around the world , leading to other opportunities—from speaking to reaching out experts when questions arise in my day-to-day work. Involvement in my professional association is not something I’ve ever given a second thought to, and I wish more dental hygienists would find a way to ignite their own passion for their profession through membership.
What trait do you think is integral for every dental hygienist to have when beginning his or her career?
Never stop learning! Eliminate the phrase “Well, that’s not what I learned in school” from our vocabulary because our profession is evolving faster than ever. Being able to adapt to the shifts in evidence and continually learn is critical and something that I share with every student and recent graduate I encounter.