Crysler’s new dental hygienist still smiling amid COVID-19 challenges

Independent Dental Hygienist Heather Saxon at her recently opened shop in Crysler. Zandbergen photo, Nation Valley News

Nelson Zandbergen
Nation Valley News

CRYSLER — Heather Saxon eagerly opened for business in this rural village on January 30th. Little more than a month later, the registered dental hygienist was forced to pause operations until the authorities allowed her industry to resume serving the public amid the pandemic.

Undaunted by the COVID-19 curve ball, Saxon has begun cleaning teeth again on an appointments-only basis.

Having already invested in renovations before opening Affordable Dental Cleaning the first time around, she’s since put additional funds into new COVID-19 infection-control measures prior to reopening in a different world. In accordance with the professional body overseeing her profession, she’s installed HEPA air-infiltration units, placed plastic curtains on each of her two treatment rooms and implemented mask protocols for anyone stepping inside the County Rd. 12 (6 Queen Street) shop located across from the general store.

“I ended up in the area eight years ago. My car broke down outside Long Sault, and I fell in love with the whole area,” says Saxon, originally from Nova Scotia, on her reasons for establishing in Crysler.

The South Stormont resident has been working in the dental industry for 20 years, initially as a receptionist in Alberta. She made the leap into becoming a dental hygienist in 2010, strangely enough, after breaking her neck during a fluke accident on Canada Day that year. “It was the kick in the pants that I needed, and two weeks after surgery, I packed up my car and drove east and went back to school and the rest is history.”

She’s plied her skills in Mississauga, Cornwall and Akwesasne before hanging her own shingle in the North Stormont community.

As a “self-initiated” independent dental hygienist, she does not bear the title of ‘doctor’ — like her two dentist brothers. Rather, Saxon describes her scope of practice as “preventative dentistry.” Key offerings include cleanings, removal of plaque and gingival assessments. “We do everything to prevent other things from happening with your teeth; we prevent you from losing your teeth,” she explains.

And you won’t hear the whine of a dental drill in this shop:  Saxon does not drill into teeth or do fillings — or even specifically diagnose cavities and other problems spotted inside the client’s mouth. “But we can give you a professional opinion and direct you to the care that you need,” she adds.

She can also apply sealants on teeth — protective coatings to “help prevent cavities from starting,” particularly in children’s emerging adult teeth. She also possesses the equipment to make sports mouth guards — a process that begins with taking a custom impression of the client’s bite.

She also performs a teeth desensitizing procedure using a salt compound, and she offers teeth-whitening products for sale (but doesn’t do whitening in-house).

Saxon resumed offering services only a few weeks ago after the shutdown compelled by the COVID-19 crisis. It meant putting in place those new protective measures imposed by her industry’s overseer, the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario. “Our governing body is extremely strict; more than the dentists’,” she says. “It’s pretty intense.”

Beyond installing the surgical-grade HEPA air filters, the effort includes having only one client in the place at a time and shifting between two separate rooms — Saxon refers to them as operatories — each sealed and with its own chair.  When one patient leaves, Saxon cleans the recently vacated operatory with disinfectant before brining in the next person to occupy the other room. That way, nobody occupies the same operatory space for at least a half hour.

The place doesn’t have set hours, though it can accommodate the occasional walk-in during the day. However, appointments are the usual and preferred method for entry into one of Saxon’s dental chairs. “My vision was providing a rural-based, preventative dental for the people. I understand the rural life,” she explains. “If you’ve got a farmer coming off the field at 9 p.m. at night, I’ll accommodate them. If you’re a shift-worker off at 6 a.m. from St. Albert Cheese or Parmalat, no problem, I can be here.”

The proprietor also highlights her motivation to save people money — hence the ‘Affordable’ in her business name. “The majority of people do not have dental benefits,” she observes, estimating her cleanings at a “good third cheaper” than those carried out by a dentist. “I myself, as a hygienist, don’t have benefits, and I have a lot of friends who would go to a dentist but can’t afford it.”

An entire family visited from Cornwall for the economical service provided, notes Saxon, who currently counts a patient list of 15 but aspires to have many more.

“There’s no sales pressure here,” she adds. “I’m not going to force people to do things they’re not comfortable with or that they can’t afford.”

“I take pride, and I don’t hurt people,” she says of her work ethic and “extremely thorough” cleanings — which includes plaque and tartar removal otherwise known as debridement in dental circles. “Most of the time my patients are laughing so hard, they don’t realize how fast it’s gone, and we’re done the appointment!”

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