Becoming a dental professional: 24 hours at Anaheim meeting

July 21, 2017
Two recent dental hygiene graduates share details about their professional networking experiences at the recent California Dental Association meeting in Anaheim. 

By Symantha R. Zaragoza, RDH, and Natalia C. Smith, RDH

To my fellow dental hygiene students and recent graduates, I would like to share my 24-hour experience at the CDA/CDHA annual spring session in Anaheim, Calif., earlier this year. My classmate and I had the opportunity to join forces with Jackie Sanders RDH, MBA, the manager of professional Relations at Sunstar. We assisted in the exhibit booth, showcasing GUM and Butler products. Before diving into the weekend’s adventure, please allow me to introduce myself and my classmate.

Smith (left) and Zaragoza

My name is Symantha Zaragoza, and I am a recent graduate from the Oxnard College Dental Hygiene Program. I am 30 years old, a Ventura County native, and outdoors enthusiast who enjoys spending time with family and friends. My dental background includes two years of dental hygiene school and 40-plus hours of clinical shadowing.

My partner in crime during the California events was Natalia Smith. Natalia, 28, was also born and raised in Ventura, and, like myself, is an outdoors enthusiast. She has two years’ experience in dental reception and dental insurance verification. We met through the dental hygiene program at Oxnard College. With so many similarities, we quickly became great friends.

Our CDA/CDHA journey began with a three-hour car ride south of home during rush hour traffic. Thankfully in comfortable clothing—me in capri jeans, T-shirt and Converse tennis shoes and Natalia in flowy pants, tank top, and sandals (you will know why this is pertinent information shortly)—we arrived at the Anaheim Hilton at 7 p.m. We walked through the lobby doors, luggage in hand, into a crowd of well-dressed dental professionals.

Instant stress! Natalia and I quickly made our way to the front desk to check in, followed by a quick sprint to the elevators before we could be spotted. Once upstairs, almost in complete unison, our cell phones chimed with a message from Jackie Sanders: “Wondering if you ladies are in town?”

We quickly responded, “Yes, ma’am. We just got to our room. Are you here?”

Ms. Sanders informed us that she was downstairs with someone she wanted us to meet. Natalia and I looked at each other in a panic, and quickly changed into professional attire, keeping in mind that first impressions matter and are often hard to change.

Downstairs, we were greeted by Ms. Sanders and were introduced to Amber Auger (the host of Ask Amber and a clinical consultant with PennWell), and Christie Bailey (the director of global sales and marketing at Paradise Dental Technologies (PDT). We discussed how we became interested in the dental hygiene profession, what motivates us, and what we hope to accomplish in the future. The conversation quickly became more relaxed as time went on, and our professional relationship turned into a friendship. This is often how networking begins.

Saturday morning began at 6 a.m. sharp. Natalia and I had the wonderful opportunity to work as student representatives for Sunstar. We distributed GUM and Butler samples to attendees and discussed some of our favorite products Sunstar offers. We loved explaining the products’ unique technologies, our personal clinical experiences with each product, and where they could be purchased.

During our lunch break, we took a tour of the California Dental Association (CDA) exhibits. The Anaheim Convention Center is beautiful. When you walk onto the exhibit floor, it is hard not be blown away. All of the major brands were present and eager to share information and samples with us.

Only students may understand this, but after two years of dental hygiene school and very limited dental backgrounds, we were filled with Christmas morning joy. The excitement was easily displayed upon our faces.

We were so grateful for Jackie Sanders’ advice to dress professionally, as you never know who you are going to meet. Walking through the CDA hall, we were introduced to a multitude of key-influencers in our industry such as Lewis Meyers (American Eagle), Ohannes Megederchian (Crest/ Oral-B), Shad Slaughter (Spry), and Julie Seager (Spry).

The end of the convention was concluded with a poolside meeting of great minds, including Jackie Sanders and Christie Bailey, as well as Nichol Schreiber (Young Innovations), Carrie Brown Ibbetson (Young Dental), and Anastasia Turchetta, RDH, (host of Coffee Chat with Anastasia). These wonderful ladies shared words of wisdom, insight, and welcomed us both into their RDH family. We hope to attend RDH Under One Roof this August in Chicago, and once again provide you with additional insights from our adventures in the Midwest.

Before we sign off, we have a few recommendations for new dental hygiene graduates:

  1. Dress professionally! You never know who you are going to meet.
  2. When walking the exhibit hall, pay attention to product information so you can incorporate new knowledge into your new careers.
  3. Bring an extra pair of comfortable shoes, a stack of business cards, and be ready to network.
  4. Caution: dental conventions can quickly turn into a party by night with all the live music, drinks, and socializing. While there is fun to be had, remember that you and your actions are a representation of yourself.

To all the new graduates, congratulations and “holy molar,” we did it! To new dental hygiene students, take one day at a time, and remember why you started. It will all be worth it.

Best wishes from two California girls, Symantha R. Zaragoza and Natalia C. Smith.