Cynthia Bishop, Hero of Dental Hygiene

Do what she says, if you know what’s good for you

“You were born with great teeth,” says Cindy Bishop, who was just named the 2017 “Hygienist of the Year” by the New Hampshire Dental Society. “One of my patients was a 95-year-old woman who still had all but two of her teeth, and there’s no reason you can’t keep yours.” Bishop says teeth aren’t that different from your arms, feet, hands or eyes. “They should be yours for a lifetime unless you have an accident.”

That’s the message that Bishop, a certified public health dental hygienist, has tried to convey as Seacoast Healthy Grins program coordinator for the Families First Health and Support Center since 2003. She visits preschool, elementary and middle school classrooms in Portsmouth and nearby towns to provide oral health education, screenings, cleanings, sealants, temporary fillings and referrals to dentists to children at each school.

“Decay happens,” she admits, but adds, “Decay isn’t an accident.”

Still, preventing it does require vigilance.

“It’s insidious. Decay starts out very slowly. If you don’t go [to the dentist] every six months it goes undetected. That’s the benefit of school-based programs,” says Bishop. “There are reasons why many kids can’t get to the dentist, but you can reach them before they end up in up in an operating room because of extensive decay.”

Fortunately, such programs are expanding. In 1999, New Hampshire had four school-based programs in 40 schools. This year there are 22 programs in 208 schools, and Bishop reveals a touch of professional pride when she says, “This is great progress!”

“Cindy is a leader among certified public health dental hygienists in New Hampshire,” says A.J. “Skip” Homicz, DDS, who volunteers as dental director at Families First and is a member of the NH Dental Society. “In her time at Families First, she has expanded Seacoast Healthy Grins to more schools and initiated dental services for infants at Families First and their parents, providing education, anticipatory guidance and fluoride varnish.”

Earlier this year, the National Center on Early Childhood Health and Wellness chose Bishop to represent New Hampshire as the state’s dental hygiene liaison. Recognized as early childhood oral health leaders and advocates in their states, liaisons are responsible for collaborating with state organizations, including the state oral health program, the state Head Start collaboration office and child care agencies.

But for all her accolades, she says the best reward for her work is when she sees a patient have an “aha!” moment. “Do the best job you can to keep your teeth as clean as possible — brush twice a day, floss once a day and eat healthy food: Theres a time when someone is ready to hear the message even if it’s been delivered over and over.”

“I didn’t’ go to hygiene school until I was 33 — lucky for my kids,” says Bishop with a chuckle. But better late than never. She recalls one recent encounter, “One of my children, 28 years old, came to me and said, ‘Mom you’ll be so excited. I just started to floss.’”

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