Helping to put a bright and healthy smile on each child’s face
Longtime Las Vegas resident Terri Chandler, RDH, knows the value of a smile and wants to take care of dental hygiene for every child, regardless of his or her circumstance. She’s the founder and executive director of Future Smiles, a nonprofit foundation that provides public health dental hygienists with portable dental equipment to serve at-risk children in the Clark County School District.
Chandler began her career in dentistry at the age of 19 and said that to this day still enjoys clinical care, patient contact and being an advocate for health. In 1999 she graduated from dental hygiene school and began her career in private practice. Chandler was then offered a position with the Nevada State Health Division’s Oral Health Program as the Statewide Oral Health Coalition Coordinator and later the Statewide Sealant Coordinator.
“For the eight years that I served with the NSHD-OHP, I found that both roles gave me a unique knowledge base into public health and program management. Through those years, I learned of the oral health crisis in Nevada, where 7 in 10 children experience tooth decay by the third grade. Oral disease is five times more common than asthma and in an at-risk population, access to an oral health professional is a challenge due to costs and travel,” Chandler said. “In 2011 the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported that only 31 percent of Nevada Medicaid enrolled children received preventive dental services, emphasizing that many at-risk children are simply shut out of the system and suffer needlessly in silence.”
In 2009, Chandler was offered the opportunity to set up a dental hygiene-based oral health program at the Cunningham School-based Health Center spearheaded by Communities In Schools. Chandler made the decision to resign from private practice and devote 100 percent of her time to creating Future Smiles.
“Some of our sites are internal to the school, like a classroom, and only serve the immediate school population. However three of our sites are in separate structures and are open to the community to serve any needy child. Because of this broad range availability, we have served children from more than 105 schools in Clark County. We have a team of 10 public health dental hygienists who hold a specialty license for Public Health Dental Hygiene Endorsement by the Nevada State Board of Dental Examiners.”
Chandler has been fortunate to have many mentors but her inspiration is her Hispanic grandmother, Cruz Fernandez. “(She) never attended high school, but she was the kindest and most profoundly wise person I have ever known. We called her Nana and she taught me to have a deep level of compassion for others by always helping with the gifts that the good Lord has given you. … Nana used to say, ‘Children come into this world like a blank sheet of paper, they only know who they are by the words that you put onto that paper, so choose your words wisely.’ That saying remains with me to this day since children are our future and it is up to each of us to make their lives better. … Nana passed away a few years ago and I still miss her deeply.”
As for Chandler’s philosophy, “I once gave a presentation where I used the analogy, ‘Knowledge is like chocolate, it is meant to be savored and shared.’ How true that is. As a professional, we all need to work together to impact the lives of those we serve, to fully enjoy the opportunity to serve others, to understand and appreciate what we have learned, and more importantly, to share our knowledge with our colleagues making each of us a better professional.”
It is her devotion and dedication that makes her a Fearless Female.