Hygienist’s Career Pivot Brings Great Rewards

By Sophia Bennett

When Kelli Swanson Jaecks went to dental hygiene school it was for an entirely practical reason. “I realized I wanted more security out of life, so I thought I’d better go to school,” says the Salem, Oregon resident. “And if I went to school I thought I’d better do something in dentistry or medicine because they have the jobs.”

Although she originally thought she’d be a nurse, she quickly developed a passion for dental hygiene after taking classes at Chemeketa Community College. And while she had no plans to become a nationally-recognized speaker or published author during those early days as a student, that’s exactly where her career in dental hygiene has led her.

After completing the dental hygiene program at Oregon Health and Science University, Jaecks’ first job was with a husband and wife dental team in Salem. She worked there for 10 years. “During that time I took continuing education classes like we all do,” she says. “As I was sitting in all these courses I thought, ‘These science-focused speakers have so much good information, yet many of them don’t know how to effectively deliver the message.’ I knew I could add something to this. I left those classes inspired to learn how to speak in such a way that people in my audiences would understand the information, feel entertained and leave feeling like they got something worthwhile for their time.”

As a first step toward this goal she earned a master’s degree in communication and adult education from Oregon State University. She spent two years as an adjunct lecturer on public speaking at Western Oregon University, then worked in sales and marketing for the Oregon office of OralDNA Labs.

Even as her career shifted she stayed active in the Oregon Dental Hygienists’ Association and American Dental Hygienists’ Association (ADHA). Her leadership skills were readily apparent to her colleagues, who elected her president of the Oregon chapter in 2009. From there she served as ADHA Trustee, which propelled her into the position of national president from 2014 to 2015.

“During my tenure as president the Commission on Dental Accreditation was debating whether they would create educational standards for dental therapists,” Jaecks says. “I was very involved in advocating for the educational standards for that profession on the national level. I’m proud to report that CODA did pass those standards and they will be really important as we move forward.”

Jaecks is still putting her license to good use. She now teaches continuing education classes at dental conferences across the country. She volunteers on boards such as the Oregon Oral Health Coalition.

And last year she drew on her medical background to write and publish her first book, “Martinis and Menopause: Strategies, Science, and Sips That Empower Women to Beat the Hormone Groan.” The book is inspired by a lecture she often gives at conferences that addresses the health issues women face as they go through perimenopause and menopause.

Each chapter begins with the story of a fictional woman who shares her experience of a common symptom of menopause, such as hot flashes or mood swings. From there Jaecks goes into what she calls “the science of why.”

“I work to explain the science in a meaningful, accessible way so that it is understandable,” she says. “This is why you get hot flashes; this is what happens in your brain when you get food cravings. Knowledge is power, and the more we know the more we can do to help ourselves.” She then shares actionable steps women can take to deal with these challenges.

Each chapter also includes a martini and mocktail recipe. Jaecks says she sees the drink as a metaphor for menopause. “It doesn’t matter what you’re drinking, it’s who you’re drinking with. Do you have a tribe of people around you who support you and love you? That’s important for women at this time of life because they often feel isolated and alone in their experiences. I want to change that because this is a universal issue. We’re all going to go through this, so why not support one another, share information and live better for it?”

To celebrate the book’s launch, last year Jaecks hosted monthly Martinis and Menopause Soirées in Salem. The events were held in local businesses and included live entertainment, martini samples and a reading from the book. “There’s a lot of networking, a lot of laughing and a lot of women connecting over mutual understanding,” she says. “It’s a fun, cocktail party-like atmosphere, and women have told me they feel more empowered, leaving the event with understandable education about themselves and with doable strategies to live better.”

Jaecks’ plans for the future include continuing her national public speaking career and promoting her book. She’s considering penning another title, this one called “Manhattans and Man-opause.” “A woman’s menopausal experience is something we don’t talk about very much in our culture, and we certainly don’t talk about the hormonal changes men go through,” she says. “I want to help change that, too.”