Dental Therapy: A Story Worth Sharing

  | By Cristina Bowerman, Executive Director, American Dental Therapy Association
Dental Therapy: A Story Worth Sharing

As a dental therapist or advocate for dental therapy, one of the most important things you can do is share your story. For some, dental therapy was a natural progression from many years of working as a dental assistant or hygienist. For others, dental therapy became an opportunity to improve the quality of oral healthcare in their communities. Others have pursued dental therapy due to a strong desire to become a part of something bigger than themselves. Whatever led you to the dental therapist profession or decision to advocate for dental therapy, each of us has an important story to tell. 

You may think, why would anyone want to know my story? Because, as humans, we connect through shared experiences. Approximately 79 million people live in dental health professional shortage areas, which is a problem not isolated to the United States. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 3.5 billion people are affected by oral diseases, the most common noncommunicable diseases worldwide. That's why sharing your story is so important. If you are a dental therapist, sharing your story with others is essential as you are giving hope to many who struggle with adequate oral healthcare. If you advocate for dental therapy, you are increasing the awareness for individuals who may benefit from this growing profession and empowering them to exercise their First Amendment rights in state and federal legislative efforts. 

So, how do we share our story meaningfully and in a way that resonates with others? 

Step 1: First, identify who you are, the purpose for sharing your story, and what you want your intended audience to do. 

A great way to remember this is a quote from the movie The Princess Bride. In the film, the character Inigo Montoya states, "My name is Inigo Montoya; you killed my father, prepare to die." In this statement, Inigo Montoya introduces himself to the audience, states his purpose in finding his father's killer, and identifies his call to action - avenging his father's death. This phrase is the most memorable quote in The Princess Bride as it's repeated throughout the film. So, when you share your story, you want to ensure your audience understands your message, and this can be accomplished by repeating and rephrasing your message several times.

Step 2: All great stories have one common ingredient: One big idea. 

You want to limit your story to one central idea that allows you to focus on something you are passionate about. When sharing your big idea, you want to provide context to your audience and give them a reason to care. You can do this by appealing to the audience's curiosity and incorporating familiar concepts. Metaphors can help your audience relate to what you are talking about. For example, “finding a dentist near my home is like finding a needle in a haystack. Who else struggles with this?” This example illustrates how difficult access to care is for many Americans by comparing it to the impossible task of finding a needle in a haystack. 

Step 3: Your visuals have to match the story you are sharing. 

What visuals match your big idea? Many individuals have not experienced inadequate oral health care and don't understand the challenges and barriers underserved populations face. If you were speaking to a group of people and having to illustrate this, you could use an image like the one below and state to your audience, “if you could only receive dental care in a setting like this, how would it make you feel? What if I told you this care is provided once a year if the individuals are lucky? Every American has the right to receive oral health care in a comfortable and professional environment, on a day and time that works with their schedule, and in an equitable fashion regardless of their income bracket. While we commend professionals for providing this much-needed service, the United States can do better, right?”

Dental providers treat patients in mobile chairs arranged in long lines on the floor of a convention center

Step 4: Know your message. 

Become proficient enough to share your story with anyone. Practice with friends and family to get comfortable and gain confidence in your story. If note cards help, great. Use them to help organize your thoughts, but try not to use them as a crutch. The same goes for presentation software like PowerPoint. You don't want to distract your audience with these tools. They should complement your story and not distract from it.

Step 5: Incorporate HAIL into your story. 

HAIL is an acronym for honesty, authenticity, integrity, and love. Express honesty by being transparent and straightforward. Build authenticity by being yourself. Use integrity by being your word. And love is wishing your audience well at the end.

Step 6: Tell your story, relax and breathe. 

Imposter syndrome is a reality that many of us struggle with at one time or another in our careers. When asked to present at a conference or to share your story with a community, you may question whether or not you should do this. The answer is YES! Remember, all of us have a unique story and perspective to share. By sharing our story, we reduce the unknowns about dental therapy, familiarize others with the benefits of having a mid-level provider in dentistry, and present opportunities to integrate dental therapy in communities nationwide.

To learn more about crafting your story and integrating these steps into a powerful presentation, don't miss the ADTA's webinar, Public Speaking Training for Dental Therapists: Becoming Our Own Advocates, presented by Ned Johnson, Director of Communications for the National Indian Health Board, on Thursday, March 28 at 9 am PT, 11 am CT, 12 pm ET. To register for this free webinar, click here