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Bad health habits in dental hygiene school can mean big trouble later on

Jan. 22, 2020
"When I was in college studying my prerequisites to get into the dental hygiene program, I became a chain-smoking, coffee-drinking, fast food junkie," says Annamarie Pamphilis. Make these changes and don't suffer the same consequences she did.

Before I became a dental hygienist in 1995, I suffered with anxiety. When I was in college studying my prerequisites to get into the dental hygiene program, I became a chain-smoking, coffee-drinking, fast food junkie. Too much stress at school and not taking care of myself burned a hole in my stomach. Nevertheless, I continued on this course to achieve my goal of becoming a dental hygienist. Graduating and getting that degree was my primary focus; my health had to wait. I mistakenly thought I was invincible, and as a result developed GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). I was in and out of emergency rooms seeking refuge from the pain. The ER was the only place I found relief. There, the staff gave me cold shots of Mylanta with a numbing agent that provided me with cooling immediate relief.

My stomach became a chronic source of pain; burning and cramping became my norm. It was excruciating, and I finally sought a more permanent solution rather than the quick fixes I was getting in the emergency room. I went to a holistic medical doctor, Dr. Lee. He was of Asian descent and I was so happy because the night before my appointment with him I had eaten Chinese food. I couldn’t wait to tell him.

During our consultation, he asked me about my lifestyle habits and I told him everything: I smoked a pack a day (cut down from two packs), I drank coffee and soda, and I ate fast food because I didn’t have time to cook. Dr. Lee then asked me the question I had been waiting for: “What did you have for dinner last night?” I blurted out, “Chinese food and a Coke.” I sat back smiling, thinking he was going to approve of my eating his native food.

I will never forget his response. He got inches from my face and shouted, “Chinese food is terrible for you—high in sodium and sugar!” I was shocked by his attitude. He continued, “You drank Coke? That is all you drank?” I sheepishly replied, “Yes.” Dr. Lee got in my face again, his face suddenly red and, looking angry, exclaimed, “Do you wash your dishes in Coke?!”

This doctor was so upset with me, I couldn’t believe it. His passion for my health was much stronger than my own. I simply used my body like an amusement park, never thinking that the garbage I put into it would affect me. It sounds crazy now, but I did not equate my physical health with my mental health, or my mental health with my physical health. I was pretty messed up. Unfortunately, his prices were high, and he only accepted cash, so I could only pay for my first visit. His receptionist sent me home with a folder full of information on quitting smoking, eating healthy, whole foods, and exercising, none of which I had done on a regular basis, and I definitely hadn’t drunk eight glasses of water a day. Heck, I didn’t drink eight glasses of water a week! I coveted that folder of information for many years; it was like a hug in a folder, and it was that folder that initiated my journey into health and wellness.

I met a naturopathic doctor, “Dr. J,” who recommended I take digestive enzymes with every meal to promote digestion. I did, and my stomach pains began to go away. I began to feel better and enrolled in the doctor of naturopathy program at Trinity College of Natural Health because I wanted to help people like Dr. J had helped me. That is where I learned about alternative healing techniques such as Reiki (a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing) and I eventually became a Reiki master.

Learning to slow down while being still and mindful provided me with peace and calm. My thoughts became my healer. I started giving Reiki to nervous patients in my dental chair to calm them and help them feel at ease, and as a result, I became calm too. It was very beneficial for me and my patients. In my naturopathy program we were learning about the effects of essential oils, especially how lavender is very relaxing. I brought lavender essential oil to the dental office and put a few drops on a 2 x 2 piece of gauze and waved it around my op before patients arrived. At this time, I thought I was winding down my dental hygiene career and looking forward to being more instrumental in helping people. Staff and patients alike would walk into my room and say, “It feels good in here.” Yes, that was my goal—for my patients and myself—to have a calm, stress-free environment where healing could take place.

Over time, my anxiety attacks lessened. My lifestyle changes were comforting and nourishing to my soul and body. I continued my studies in health, and in 2007 became a master herbalist; in 2009, a doctor of naturopathy; in 2018, a master Reiki teacher; also that same year I became a certified health coach. In 2019, I became a certified group fitness instructor with ACE and a Tai Chi Easy practice leader. I guess you can say the lightbulb had turned on.

All of my education has led to my current practice as a workplace wellness coach. Work and school can definitely stress you out, and if you don’t take care of yourself, a whole host of problems can result, and who has time for that? In today’s fast-paced world, it is imperative to slow down, breathe, and be still. It could save your life.

Annamarie Pamphilis has been a dental hygienist since 1995 and is now working as a workplace wellness coach. Her interest in health and wellness began after years of ignoring her own health and suffering with chronic pain. With one foot in allopathy and the other in naturopathy, her holistic education is the root to her success as a healer. For more information, email her at [email protected] or visit www.coachannamarie.com.