Tammi O. Byrd, RDH, BS, is CEO and clinical director of Health Promotion Specialists, a school-based dental hygiene program serving schools in South Carolina since 2000. She is responsible for the administration and management of the company’s budget and operations, as well as its clinical functions. Byrd actively participates in the monitoring and development of government statutes, regulations, and policies as they relate to small business, dentistry, and the practice of dental hygiene. She is a past president of the South Carolina Dental Hygiene Association and the American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). Byrd has received numerous awards, including the ADHA Distinguished Service Award in 2000 and the Johnson and Johnson/ADHA Excellence in Dental Hygiene Award in 2007.
What are the biggest obstacles to improving the oral health of all Americans?
The biggest challenges are too few oral health care providers, the overtreatment of patients by some oral health care providers, and lack of necessary funding. Many of the financial issues could be resolved if the amount of overtreatment was reduced and the functions of dental hygienists were expanded to correlate with our education level. Dental hygienists are underutilized team members.
How are you making a difference in the oral health of children in South Carolina?
My company, Health Promotion Specialists, has spent the past 12 years educating parents and children about the importance of oral health and the need for prevention, in addition to providing preventive services. We partner with South Carolina school districts to provide preventive health education and oral health services; refer children to local physicians, dentists, speech therapists, etc, for any additionally needed services; and participate in community activities to promote health. Fortunately, we are seeing change. The next generation of parents will be more conscientious about their children’s oral health, as well as their own.
Why is membership and involvement in organized dental hygiene important?
Membership in professional organizations is vital to lifelong learning and a lifelong love of the profession. I would not be where I am today if I had not remained involved in organized dental hygiene. I see many dental hygienists who have jobs, not careers, and they burn out. I chose to become a professional, and with that comes the responsibility of staying on the cutting edge of the latest evidence-based practice. Knowledge brings strength that helps you overcome adversity, and persevere.
What advice do you have for other dental hygienists who want to make a difference in their own communities?
Believe that you can make a difference and then act on that belief. I have always loved the quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The small group starts with one and builds from there.