Health Careers >> Browse Articles >> Dentistry


Dental Hygienist: Tammi Byrd, RDH

Cathy Sivak, Contributing Writer

Her Career

Tell us about your dental hygiene career. What led you to shift from a clinical care focus to become the CEO/clinical director of a school-based oral care program organization?

I worked in pediatric dentistry for the first year of my practice and then moved to a family practice closer to my home. I worked there for 8.5 years and moved to a periodontal practice for the next 12.5 years. During this time, I was always involved with my professional association and worked with our Council on Regulation and Practice. I had seen the inequities of oral health status of different populations and knew that dental hygienists were not utilized to their full potential and that some of the neediest populations did not have access to preventive services and not aware of the value of good oral health.

The South Carolina General Assembly passed legislation in 2000 to allow registered dental hygienists (RDHs) to work in schools, nursing homes, etc. without the presence of a dentist. At that time, I met with the policy advisor for our state department of health and environmental control. The state had utilized RDHs in the early 1980s to provide preventive services in schools and had a very successful Newberry Sealant Project. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the reinstatement of this program with the statute change to allow the services again. I was informed that the state did not want to directly provide the services but would prefer to oversee them. I was quite surprised and disappointed because I knew of the great needs in our state schools. It was at that time that God laid it on my heart that no one would provide the much-needed services unless I did. It was a leap of faith and has been a character-enhancing opportunity.

You have extensive clinical experience as a dental hygienist in periodontics, family practice and pediatric dentistry. What differences and similarities are found in these clinical settings?

All settings utilize the dental hygiene education but the personalities, age differences, and presence of disease determine the treatment plan, how you present your dental hygiene treatment plan, teach patient education, and utilize different home care products.

Describe a typical day (or week) of work for you. What are your key responsibilities?

As CEO/Clinical Director of a statewide school-based program, my day is quite different from when I was practicing clinically. I spend a lot of time involved with public relations – networking, marketing, and working with the clinical RDHs to assure that our relationships on the local levels are maintained at the highest levels. I keep close tabs on the legislative arena through tracking systems of our state legislature to monitor any changes that could affect how our services are delivered. I visit RDHs onsite, review new products, and work diligently to stay abreast of current literature and research and assure that it is disseminated to the staff. I also arrange to have speakers annually on cultural awareness, infection control, child abuse recognition and prevention, oral pathology, medical emergencies, CPR recertification, etc. to ensure continuing competency of our staff.

You have served nationally in leadership positions including president of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, and have likewise served the South Carolina Dental Hygienists’ Association and the Greater Columbia Dental Hygiene Association. How has your involvement benefited your career? What can emerging dental hygiene professionals expect from membership to national, regional and local professional organizations?

My involvement with my professional association has been the lifeline of my career. It has kept me informed, involved and energized. I truly believe that upon graduation, each individual has a choice of pursuing a job or a profession. If you want to be a professional you must be involved with your professional association. They speak for the profession and I want to make sure my voice is heard. Involvement moves an individual from average to excellence.

In addition to serving in numerous capacities for the professional organizations, you are involved with numerous public health initiatives. What drives you to be so professionally active?

When I am no longer in this world, I want to know that I made a difference in the lives of others through improved quality of life. I believe involvement in these initiatives creates change for the better.

You have received numerous awards and honors for your service, performance and involvement in the field. What do these honors mean to you on a personal and professional level?

Personally, it is an honor that me that my colleagues consider me worthy. I have done nothing more than many of them have and have enjoyed the camaraderie on the journey. Professionally, I hope that it will instill a passion in other individuals to get involved and make a difference.

What are some favorite projects that you’ve been involved with in your career? What makes them stand out?

The current school-based sealant program I am working with now is extremely rewarding. The hugs, hand-made cards, and letters of appreciation from the children, parents and school administrators stating the impact our services have had on the lives we touch daily makes it all worth while. We have been enormously challenged by private practitioners and organized dentistry that sealants are not safe and should not be placed by dental hygienists without a personal exam by a dentist. The opposition was so great that the Federal Trade Commission brought formal charges against the South Carolina Board of Dentistry and the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors (ASTDD) requested that the Centers for Disease Control convene an Expert Panel on School-Based Sealant Programs to again review the evidence. The evidence is clear that sealants are effective and safe and the CDC has committed to disseminate this message to dental practitioners. They are scheduled to release new guidelines for these programs late summer 2006 along with the evidence documenting the findings. Barriers to access and preventive services are being broken down. This is the ultimate goal to improving oral health. No disease has been eliminated through a treatment program. We must capitalize on prevention.

Another great project was the tobacco cessation program implanted by ADHA the “Ask, Advise and Refer” program. Living in a tobacco state, I have seen the firsthand effects of this horribly addictive drug.

AllHealthcare School Finder

Save time in your search for a degree program. Use AllHealthcare's School Finder to locate schools online and in your area.

* In the event that we cannot find a program from one of our partner schools that matches your specific area of interest, we may show schools with similar or unrelated programs.