My journey to wellness

Melissa Kjos-Peterson shares her journey from dental hygienist to wellness coach.

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Wow! Did you see the cover of the new Time special magazine? Wellness!

OK, I admit I geeked out a little bit when I saw it, but let me explain! My name is Melissa Kjos-Peterson and I have been a dental hygienist for more than 25 years now. Just recently I graduated from IIN, the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. That makes me a health and wellness coach! Let's back up and I’ll let you know how I got here.

As I said, I have been a hygienist for more than 25 years now. More than 15 of those years I spent with the same dentist, assistants, and front office staff. I was so happy! We were such an amazing team. I truly count myself blessed to have been part of such a special group of people.About three years ago, my boss decided it was time to retire and sold the practice to a young dentist. I am going to be honest: I did not want the change, I did not like the change, and I was not very happy. I was afraid my days as a dental hygienist were numbered. It seemed like my experience and expertise were not wanted or appreciated. 

I went to RDH Evolution a year ago thinking it was time to see what my degree could do for me—out of the op! (Yes, Elijah, I am part of your Facebook group, Trapped in an OP!) I found much more then I expected. I met a wonderful group of women who cheered me on in whatever route I chose to take—be it speaking, mission work, or caring for the elderly. These amazing women included Amber Auger (#askamberrdh), Jackie Sanders (named one of the six hygienists to know in 2019 in Dimensions of Dental Hygiene), Emily Boge (creator of the Boge American Eagle instrument), Michelle Strange from A Tale of Two Hygienists podcast, and Kristine Berry (dental hygienist business woman extraordinaire!), to name a few. I left with a giant shot of encouragement but was still not quite sure what to do. I had lots of ideas...but what was right for me?

It was completely by accident (or was it?) surfing the web that I came across the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. Here was something I could do along with my hygiene career that gave me even more skills to help people with living the lives they desired.

"Wellness" is such a buzzword these days, and yet I feel like most people don’t really know what the word means and especially when it comes to wellness coaches. A health and wellness coach is someone who comes alongside of you to encourage and help you reach your goals—your self-determined goals. We are here to support you in developing strategies for making sustainable, healthy lifestyles. Think of us as a mountain climbing guide who are here to discuss what you will need to pack—clothing, food, and gear to use. We don’t climb the mountain for you, but we will help you figure out what you need to make it happen. And when you get to the top, we are with you to celebrate your accomplishments!

All those years of dental hygiene have made me who I am, and I am so excited to use those skills and those I received from IIN to help others. Those experiences have led me to where I am today. Upon graduation, I have started my own business, Women and Wellness in Dentistry. I want to reach out to you, my fellow dental peeps, and support you so you can support your patients, your families, and whoever is important in your life—starting with you!

You may be surprised to hear that I am still at that same practice, working three days a week and continuing to take care of wonderful patients whom I have built relationships with over the last 18 years. I am the only staff member left from the original crew, and even though the change has been hard, I am embracing this journey and climbing my own personal mountain. I am sure the view is spectacular at the top!

Melissa Kjos-Peterson, RDH, is a clinical hygienist in Kalispell, Montana, and a graduate from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York.

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