Andalusia dental hygienists take pride in helping patients

Published 9:21 am Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Visiting the dentist can be a dreaded trip for many, but Amy Jackson and Jennifer O’Neal want to ease those feelings and help people feel more comfortable.

O’Neal became a registered dental hygienist for Dr. Jon Ward in 2007.

“Having worked in the medical field from 1988 to 2007, I had become a stay-at-home mom. After a few months, I went to work part-time to earn some extra money for my oldest daughter’s upcoming senior year extracurricular activities. I fell in love with dentistry and stayed,” she said.

Jackson joined the field in June 2014 and was initially employed with Dr. William Mark Gable at the time. She is now under the leadership of Dr. Allen Ward.

Both agreed helping people was a main reason for choosing dental hygiene as their career.

Jackson said she always felt a calling of wanting to help people. “I think it is the best to make people laugh and smile. I decided as an adult to have braces because I was always self-conscious of my teeth. That’s when I chose Dr. Kimberly Ward to be my orthodontist, and that put the desire in my mind and heart to pursue the dental field.”

O’Neal added that the dental field affords her the opportunity to help people. “I love teaching my patients and empowering them to take charge of their oral health. I have built some great relationships with patients over the years, and a lot of them are like extended family to me. It is very satisfying to treat someone who has initial dental anxiety over time. It’s a wonderful feeling to help relieve patients who are having pain. They are always grateful,” she said. “In addition, my dental hygiene career has afforded me the opportunity to participate in missionary work in Haiti.”

O’Neal is a 1983 graduate of Straughn High School, and Jackson is a 2001 graduate of Opp High School.

“I attended some college classes at LBW and then went to work in the medical field. In 2006, I attended the Alabama Dental Hygiene program for a year and took RDH board exams in 2007,” O’Neal said. “I went to MacArthur for a year took a certification test to become a certified pharmacy technician. After five and a half years of orthodontic assisting and one year of dental assisting, I entered the Alabama Dental Hygiene program in Birmingham for a year,” Jackson added.

O’Neal stated her biggest influence is God, and she works for Him first and foremost. “The future rewards are great, and that holds me to a much higher standard always. Other influencers are my husband, mom, and siblings. They all work hard in our community in their own ways to make this a great place to live.” Jackson said her husband of 19 years Richard has been her biggest influence. “He has always supported me in all of my decisions from the first day we met. He was so great while I went through the dental hygiene program. He took up the slack at home with the kids and helped me study. He has definitely been my rock.”

Jackson takes pride in the dentistry field from helping patients understand the importance of oral health to easing anxiety in the dental chair. “I even do continuing education hours to further educate myself on the changes that happen in dentistry,” she said. “I love to see start to finish cases in dentistry and how a patient’s confidence shows through their smile.”

Although the two work in different locations, their duties are mostly the same.

O’Neal said she updates medical history, keeps a clean sanitary environment, takes radiographs, provides patient education and motivation, performs dental cleanings, checks for periodontal disease, applies fluoride treatment, discusses findings of dental disease with the doctor, and schedules appointments. In addition, she helps with patient phone call overflow and sometimes assists with treatment.

Jackson added that she performs intraoral and extraoral exams, screens for oral cancer, detects cavities, removes plaque and calculus buildup, completes documentation, takes dental X-rays, and measuring pockets in a process known as periodontal charting.

In some instances, patients can be nervous or anxious during their visit, but both have solutions for solving that issue.

“The first thing I like to do is listen and then discuss their concerns. I like to discuss the steps with the patient and let them know as we proceed on with each step during the cleaning appointment. I also like to make sure the patient is doing okay with each step and want to try and make our patients feel relaxed when they are in the office. I feel that open communication is best for both of us,” Jackson said.

O’Neal said the first thing she does is to tell patients they are not alone. “Dentistry can be a very personal thing for some. I tell patients that if they will hang in there with us and keep coming to their appointments, most of the time, they work through their anxiety enough to have treatment taken care of. Dentistry has come a very long way in the past decades. A lot of people have had some bad experiences in their childhood. I encourage them to talk through these things.”

The duo agreed that it is important to building trusting relationships with their patients. “For one, it leads to trust, and two, I am able to get to know them more personally, which I think makes them feel more comfortable in the dental chair,” Jackson said. “My patients need to follow through on the treatment they need to advance their oral health. One really great way our office does this is with digital radiographs and our intraoral camera. A picture is worth a thousand words,” O’Neal added.

The support of their coworkers makes a huge difference.

“Teamwork makes the dream work, and we have a rock star team at our office. Dr. Jon Ward is a wonderful boss and performs excellent dentistry. He also gives an amazing injection and strives to perform the soundest dental work possible. Dental assistants Beckie and Lacy are always willing to help Casey (RDH) and me. We are always willing to help them as well and have fun while we accomplish our goals. Our office manager Lana has been with Dr. Ward for almost his entire 34-year career. She is a fantastic manager and will help us with almost anything,” O’Neal said.

Jackson felt that having the support from fellow coworkers makes the whole office run smoother and in turn, the patients also have less anxiety. “Teamwork is important to have an easy-going and enjoyable working environment. Having a group of fellow coworkers who enjoy their jobs and working together is awesome,” she said.

O’Neal also pointed out that she is a bit of a ‘white knuckler’ and did not go to the dentist until she was a teenager.

“I had a number of cavities at that time. It’s important to me for my patients to feel comfortable. Start your kids off at the dentist at an early age. They build a trust with us and enjoy the experience more Floss once daily and brush twice daily. See your dentist twice a year, more if suggested. Dentistry has come a long way, and dental disease is progressive. If diagnosed early, it is generally easier to fix and less expensive,” she said.

Jackson is married to her husband Richard. They reside in the Blue Springs community of Opp and have three children who attend Andalusia City Schools: Sam Parker, 15; Chloe, 13; and Will, 6. Her hobbies include spending time with her family, camping, being a member of the Junior Service League of Andalusia, and being an active member at Covenant Baptist Church.

O’Neal is married to her husband Darrin. They reside in Andalusia and have four grown children: Tambry, 35; Shawn, 29; Hailey, 26; and Ivy, 24 in addition to six grandchildren. In her spare time, she is an avid runner and biker and enjoys camping with her husband.