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Deer Isle, Isle au Haut and Stonington, Maine.
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by Jessica Brophy
When Wendy Alpaugh started her practice on the Island in 1982, she thought to herself, “This is a small community; I should be able to solve the problem of dental disease,” she said in a recent interview.
Alpaugh is still striving for that goal, though it’s not for lack of effort.
Toward improved dental health statewide, she has worked with the Maine Dental Association to promote Dental Health Month (February), organized training on oral health for Women, Infant and Children clinic organizers, encouraged a statewide effort to educate dentists on the benefits of sealants to prevent cavities and to educate physicians on the appropriate use of fluoride. Another project was to keep soda machines out of schools, locally and across the state. The behavior of sipping any drink with sugar in it over the day can do a lot of damage to teeth, said Alpaugh—“even coffee with a bit of sugar in it,” she said.
Alpaugh has also served on the school system’s Wellness Committee, held dental screenings in the elementary school, co-organized the early childhood development health fair, and worked with the Maine Dental Access Commission to promote access to dental care in the state.
“There’s been a lot of really good changes over the years,” said Alpaugh about the dental health in the community. “Children are better off than their parents and grandparents, though there is still a constant battle with soda and junk food.”
One of her current projects is working with doctors at Island Family Medicine to help educate pregnant women about children’s oral health. “When I was in dental school, we didn’t see kids until age 3 or 4,” said Alpaugh. “Now it’s recommended to see children within six months of their first tooth, to help identify and correct any problems. Most parents don’t know that.”
Alpaugh said she and the dentists she has worked with over the years in Stonington have worked hard to keep costs low and dental care affordable. The important thing, she said, is to get people coming regularly before there is a big problem.
“If you prevent disease, it’s a lot less expensive,” said Alpaugh.
With 30 years in the same community, Alpaugh has seen many children grow up and bring in their own children for checkups. “It’s very exciting when children who didn’t benefit by seeing the dentist regularly bring their kids in,” she said.
She often sees several generations within a family, and it’s not uncommon to see the same teeth patterns. “It’s interesting to treat the great-grandparent and see the same pattern in the great-grandchild,” said Alpaugh.
Promoting healthy choices is important to her. “There are a lot of ties to overall health and oral health,” she said. Improving the nutrition of school lunches, and encouraging Island organizations to offer healthy foods at gatherings are both important issues, Alpaugh said.
As a dentist, she’s seen many oral health concerns, not just cavities or gum disease. She has found mouth and throat cancers, and identified jaw problems.
On a personal level, Alpaugh has enjoyed living in the community with her family and raising her children here.
“I wish there were more people who stayed in our community,” said Alpaugh. “You don’t find places like this elsewhere.”
Alpaugh said she has no near-term plans of retirement, though when the time comes she’ll “help make a smooth transition.”