Edgerton woman takes aim at nationwide dental hygiene problem
EDGERTON—Angie Stone has an unusual combination of passions.
Her love for the elderly and her background as a dental hygienist has led her to start HyLife, a caregiving business aimed at addressing a problem most never consider: nursing home residents' poor oral health.
Stone's new book, “Dying from Dirty Teeth,” outlines the issue: Dependent senior citizens aren't getting proper oral care, and they're dying because of it. Poor oral hygiene can lead to heart attacks, lung disease and strokes, Stone said.
Though oral care is required for nursing home residents, staff members don't have as much training in the area as Stone. Certified nursing assistants receive about an hour's worth of oral care training, Stone said.
Stone has 30 years of experience.
“We do do oral care, but obviously staff aren't trained to do what he needs done,” Huntington Place resident service coordinator Melissa Sugden said. “She's very thorough, and she's always getting lots of things we don't see.”
A typical cleaning takes about 15 minutes. Stone brushes and flosses clients' teeth then lines their mouths with xylitol, a natural sugar substitute that makes it harder for bacteria to produce plaque.
“It seems so simple, but when you read my book, you'll see why it's not simple,” Stone said.
Her eye is trained to pick up potential problems, such as the broken teeth she found in Huntington Place resident George Schmidt's mouth. With Stone's help, George was able to get his problems addressed, adding quality to his life.
George's wife, Mary Jane Schmidt, thinks what Stone does is wonderful.
Growing up in a large family without a huge calcium intake, George has always had problems with his teeth, Mary Jane said.
“I think it means a lot to George. It means a lot to me,” she said. “It's very important.”
Mary Jane came into contact with Stone through a recommendation from George's Stoughton-based dentist, Richard Albright. As a result, Stone has been seeing George every week since August 2013.
“She does an amazing job. She's great with the staff here and other residents. She's a huge inspiration to me,” Sugden said.
Stone and George have formed a bond. Stone spoke to George throughout the entirety of a recent cleaning, and when he wasn't sleeping, George spoke back.
After the procedure, Stone rubbed his hand and whispered, “You did good, George.”
A PASSION IS BORN
Stone had a great experience with an orthodontist back when her teeth were “all over the place.” It pushed her into dental hygientistry.
“That care changed my life,” she said. “I was just fascinated with how having good oral care, a good smile, could affect someone's life.”
Stone's inspiration to start HyLife began with two women: her mother-in-law, Gladys Stone, and her grandmother Helen Schrantz.
Gladys entered a nursing home with lung disease. Without a dentist or dental hygienist on staff, Stone watched as plaque built up in Gladys' mouth. Her lung disease continued to worsen at an alarming rate despite the antibiotics she took, Stone said.
“I know her mouth played a role in infecting her lungs,” she said. “When she died, I vowed I was going to do something to help.”
At the time, Stone had no idea what it would be.
Schrantz also entered a nursing home late into her life. In two years, she lost 60 percent of her teeth, Stone said.
“I buried her with no front teeth,” Stone recalled, “and as a dental hygienist, that haunts me. It should have never happened.”
At the time, Stone was seeing a client like George once a week. In her time with him, the client never had bleeding gums, tooth decay or pneumonia, and his blood sugars were well maintained, Stone said.
Stone might leave the nursing home crying if George has a bad day. It can be sad, hard work, but Stone wouldn't trade it for anything.
“I look forward to seeing them (the Schmidts), and they look forward to seeing me. You gotta have that connectivity,” she said. “If it's in your heart and you love the population, it's worth it.”
“I love it,” Mary Jane said of Stone's compassion and work. “I love her, too. She's precious. Her personality speaks for itself.”
A GROWING BUSINESS
HyLife is still in its infancy. The oral care component of the company began last July, and HyLife currently employees 10 caregivers in four Midwestern states and Florida.
Families of nursing home residents hire HyLife to provide oral care, Stone said.
Though each of HyLife's 10 employees is a licensed dental hygienist, they operate as certified caregivers under HyLife. That limits what they can do in terms of using equipment or removing plaque, but being trained dental hygienists gives them a leg up when it comes to thorough oral care.
Should a HyLife caregiver notice a problem with a client's teeth, he or she would notify staff and refer the client to a local dentist, as Stone did when she found George's broken teeth.
George's oral issues aren't uncommon for people his age. Stone said dependent nursing home residents suffer the worst oral hygiene and have the worst oral health of any population in the country.
“There's already a workforce that can handle this problem, and that's the dental hygienists,” Stone said. “When we're acting as caregivers, we can help put a dent in that statistic. We can help get rid of that statistic.”
HyLife hasn't done any marketing, as its mission right now is to plant seeds and get the word out, Stone said.
“Right now, we're in education mode to really sound the alarm of what's going on,” she said.
Besides a dedication to keeping elders' mouths clean, Stone's company aims to offer autonomy and extra income to dental hygienists, many of whom don't work full time, Stone said. HyLife also is a support network of like-minded professionals who can help each other when needed.
Stone's company may be small right now, but her ambitions are huge.
“My dream is to have a team all over the country acting as caregivers and taking care of this population so they're not dying from dirty teeth,” she said.
People don't always understand what Stone's doing because it's different, she said.
“I'm in front of the curve, and in front of the curve can be a lonely and scary place sometimes.”
Despite the challenges and enormous task ahead, Stone will keep pushing ahead.
“In the U.S. in 2015, should people die from dirty teeth? No. I don't think so,” she said. “We're doing something, and we're absolutely helping.”