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Meet Katrina Sanders of The Dental WINEgenist in Central Phoenix

Today we’d like to introduce you to Katrina Sanders.

Katrina, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I am a registered dental hygienist and have been practicing for over 12 years as a clinician. While I love clinical dental hygiene, I always knew I wanted more of my career. During dental hygiene school, we were required to write a “career development manual”; a document that encouraged us to think and dream outside the box about what we wanted in our career. Even as a hygiene student, I knew I wanted more for my career, and as such, I wrote about the things I saw for myself beyond clinical dental hygiene.

Over the past twelve years, I have worked in various clinical modalities from family practice, pediatrics and high end cosmetics. I also developed educational programs and wrote blog posts. Finally, I received my opportunity: I had accepted a dental hygiene faculty position with a local college. Being in my mid-twenties, I was either the same age or, in many cases, younger than many of my students. Nevertheless, I stepped into a beautiful world of academia filled with rigor, intensity and immense challenges. Immediately, I began developing new competencies, creating strategic partnerships and implementing new educational techniques. I started my Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and published three editions of my textbook; a true result of blood, sweat and countless tears. By anyone’s definition, you would think that I had hit the pinnacle of success for myself as a young clinician-turned educator with the world at her fingertips and a bright future ahead.

However, inside, I was decaying. I was gaining weight at an alarming rate, my hair and skin turned against me, my relationship was suffering immensely and I had developed a stress-related heart murmur. After a few concerned interventions from close friends and family, I knew I needed to leave education, not because I didn’t love it, but because it didn’t love me back. The only way I was going to truly evolve and grow was to find my way back, to leave an over-worked environment and deeply connect back to my “why”.

With a heavy heart, I resigned from my educational position and dipped my toe back into clinical practice, working as a “temporary” dental hygienist for local practices. I felt lost: who was I? why did I develop so much only to take steps backward? what was all of this for?

I received a LinkedIn message from the CEO of AZPerio, the country’s largest periodontal practice. “Let’s have coffee,” Jeff said. Over a drip coffee with room for cream, Jeff and I spent hours discussing the landscape of dentistry and how we need to rise and grow. By the end of our meeting, he said: “I gotta have you on my team!” He requested that I write a proposal for what my ideal job would be. Within a few days, I was welcomed to the incredible team at AZPerio as their Clinical Liaison, Hygiene Excellence & Innovation, where I am still employed and work both clinically as well as in a consulting capacity for their top referral practices.

I bought a guided journal my desperate attempt to help connect me with some sense of mental organization. The first prompt in the journal: “if you could do whatever you WANTED for the rest of your life, within reason, and money was no object… what would you do?” You see, here’s the deal: most people would say “I want to lay on a beach with a cocktail!” but after two weeks, that gets old. So… what would you do for the rest of your life if money didn’t matter? I wrote, “I want to drink wine, talk about dental hygiene and save homeless animals”.

“How dumb,” I thought to myself.

Who would ever make money doing something like that?
A few weeks later, my previous students reached out to me: they were concerned that with my leaving the program, they wouldn’t be prepared for their upcoming licensure examinations. They begged me to host a dental hygiene study club out of my home to help them prepare for their board examination and within a few days, I was hosting a program out of my dining room where we sipped wine and talked about dental hygiene. Fast forward a few weeks later, every student who took my program passed their board examinations and within months, other dental hygiene schools found out about my program. I am now the founder and CEO of Sanders Board Preparatory, a 100% passing rate National Board Dental Hygiene Examination program in which I host a 100-student live event as well as online programs.

Once my students graduated from dental hygiene school, they asked for me to develop programs to review injection techniques, infection control protocols and periodontal classifications. …their wish is my command! I grabbed my trusty laptop and began developing programs to meet their needs. A VIP member with Aridus Wine Co in Scottsdale, Arizona, they permitted me to utilize their back room to host my educational programs. Over glasses of wine paired with cheese boards and chocolates, I delivered programs in this local wine bar to waves of sold-out crowds. Before long, top dental meeting planners in the country wanted to know what was driving my programs, why people were so interested and, particularly, how they could replicate what I was doing.

Within months, I attained my level 1 sommelier, a distinction as a wine & beer expert as determined by the Court of Master Sommeliers and my colleagues began to call me “The Dental WINEgenist”, a term that, like wine stain to teeth, stuck.

Periodicals began reaching out, asking me to write articles for them, I became an advisory board member for Modern Hygienist where I host a monthly column of dental articles. I became a brand ambassador for Dimensions of Dental Hygiene, the most prominent periodical for dental hygienists.

Industry giants like Dentsply Sirona and OraPharma found my brand to be fresh, original and authentic in many ways and began on-boarding me as an independent consultant.

My career was on fire and I was headed to the moon. Then my mom suddenly collapsed in the kitchen, Dad performed CPR on her and rushed her to a hospital where she was placed on life support for a few days before we ultimately signed over her organs for tissue donation and agreed, as a family, to end her life. I hate to share this part, but it is a very real part of the story.

From that moment on, my life shifted and so did my business. You see, the morning Mom collapsed, she had a doctor’s appointment – she felt like something was wrong and she sought the care of a physician. This doctor – the doctor who could have saved my mother’s life – told her everything was “fine”. Mom passed away hours later.

I realized that my work as a speaker, educator and source of inspiration for dental providers across the country was more important than ever before. The tone of my presentations changed, the dynamic energy around my “why” evolved and I proudly stand today as a vessel for Mom’s voice, her story and ultimately, the unwavering standard of excellence we must strive for in the dental and medical communities.

Today, my business as The Dental WINEgenist has grown into a well-known brand across the dental community. Being considered somewhat of a “celebrity” in the dental community, one will oftentimes find me, with a wine glass in hand, speaking at some of the top dental meetings in the country while sponsored by some of the greatest of industry leaders amongst dental product corporations.

I am a columnist, advisory board member, podcaster, thought leader and consultant within the dental industry, but my work isn’t done yet. Just as the guided journal predicted, not only would I make a business from drinking wine while talking about dental hygiene, I am also working on an initiative to perform dental procedures on the homeless animals down at County that is scheduled to be euthanized due to dental disease.

Two years after walking away from my faculty position, I have created a career and business I am so incredibly proud of. The other day, I came across my “Career Development Manual” from dental hygiene school. I thought I’d check out what Katrina of 12 years ago wanted for herself. I smiled as I read the scribbled handwriting of a hopeful dental hygiene student who thought that the coolest career ever would be to travel internationally, speaking on dental content while writing for dental periodicals. Albeit, she thought future Katrina would live in a studio apartment in NYC with a fabulous gay man, so I suppose I’m sorry to disappoint that I’ve turned into a Phoenix-dwelling home owner with four rescue dogs and a dining room full of aging wine. Nevertheless, this journey has been incredible over these past two years, and I simply cannot wait to see what the next several years have in store for The Dental WINEgenist.

Has it been a smooth road?
I am a firm believer that nothing worth it comes easy, and I must say, my thriving business is no exception to this example. Nevertheless, I do believe that every struggle I’ve had along the way in my business was truly a gorgeous learning opportunity the universe designed specifically for me. Without getting into too many details, let’s just say that I learned early on to have an attorney in your back pocket and that contracts are important.

I learned that once your business starts to grow, everyone wants to offer their (oftentimes unsolicited) opinion. A true type 3 on the enneagram, I moved through the struggle of learning that I cannot do everything in my business and that I needed to feel comfortable hiring people to support me in the things I didn’t want to deal with in my business.

I discovered the ideal clients I prefer to work with and learned how to manage the clients I do not wish to do business with. I’ve been judged for being a woman, I’ve endured countless eye rolls from people who won’t do business with a millennial, and I’ve been underestimated to the max.

I hopped on a plane 48 hours after ending my 8 year relationship and delivered my biggest program to date while my ex-boyfriend was in Phoenix packing his belongings and moving out. Yet, I rose. And my business has never been stronger.

Despite these struggles, I’ve learned a lot, not only about the world of business but also about the grit and tenacity I have as a young woman in business and I must say, it has been humbling to be witness to.

Tell us more about your practice.
As The Dental WINEgenist, I am proud to share the multiple “arms” of my business. As an international continuing dental education provider, I travel around the world delivering dental course content for my esteemed colleagues. As the founder and CEO of Sanders Board Preparatory, my course content has empowered thousands of dental hygiene students to successfully achieve their professional goals and enter their careers with wisdom and courage. As a columnist, podcaster and advisory board member for several periodicals, I have the incredible opportunity to reach the community in a beautifully raw way. As a practice consultant, I can inspire and empower my colleagues by working with them side by side in a collaborative way. As a clinical dental hygienist and the Clinical Liaison of Hygiene Excellence & Innovation for AZPerio, I am able to still connect with my patients through direct care, to work in the surgical operatory alongside Diplomates to the American Board of Periodontology and to work tirelessly to elevate standards and protocols with the top dental practices in the state of Arizona.

What am I known for? Honestly, my brand is notorious for unpacking provocative continuing dental education content in a high-level way while leaving behind a sense of inspiration and empowerment. There is something incredibly raw and honest about peeling back the layers of what is wrong in our industry, and there is something so very humbling about walking my colleagues through how to rebuild this through their incredible skills and passion for dentistry.

I am most proud of my ability to grow from a small operation in my dining room to a thriving business with a recognizable brand attached to it in such a short amount of time despite the personal tragedies I’ve experienced over the past 18 months between losing my Grampie, the passing of my Mother and the conclusion of my long-term relationship. You see, I believe that entrepreneurs are cut from a very special cloth; a cloth that helps provide an extra glitter layer to the silver lining in a dark cloud. Somehow, the most resilient of us can rise above, despite tragedy, challenge and struggle and that are what separates most of us from the rest.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
A recent research study from the Centers for Disease Control (2016) identified that 45.2% of Americans aged 30-79 have some form of irreversible gum disease. The state of Arizona made the “top 10” (I’m not sure if that is something we should be proud of) at 47.7% of our residents having some form of irreversible gum disease. It seems like every day, a new research article is being published linking a bacterial species of the oral cavity to chronic disease.

We have learned that bacteria like P. gingivalis are linked to infertility in women, advanced stages of Pancreatic Cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease. Bacteria such as P. intermedia are liked to birthing complications in pregnant women and F. nucleatum is linked to colorectal cancer in men. Beyond this, dental caries is the #1 childhood chronic disease, far surpassing the threat of Asthma. Every hour on the hour, one American dies from the complications of oral cancer.

Dental professionals are beginning to learn about airway obstruction, the relationships between the muscular pulls in your mouth and systemic disease. We can tell patients they have acid reflux, can identify nutritional deficiencies by looking at the oral tissues and oftentimes warn patients to get tested for HIV/AIDS and pregnancy based on the appearance of their gum tissues.

So where do I see the dental industry moving in the next five to ten years? I see dentistry moving into a medical model.

Truth: there is not a single piece of research that says you should go to the dentist every six months to control oral disease- that was an initiative from a toothpaste commercial in the 1950s. The only reason most of our patients present every 6 months to the dental office is that their insurance covers it, and I just don’t believe that is good enough anymore, especially based on what we continue to learn about the threat of oral bacteria in the body. Every point in your mouth where your gums bleed that is a portal of entry, permitting the bacteria in your mouth to enter your bloodstream and circulate through your body.

We put simply, have too much information at our fingertips to NOT evolve into an industry that truly supports the community. So I see the dental industry evolving and growing accordingly. Who will be the thought leaders to continue to push dentistry forward? (I’m raising my hand).

Our industry NEEDS people to step up to the plate, share provocative ideas, unpack new concepts and push the envelope a little bit. One of my favorite quotes: “well behaved women rarely make history”, and I believe this to be true.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.katrinasanders.com
  • Phone: 612.345.1150
  • Email: info@katrinasanders.com
  • Instagram: @TheDentalWINEgenist
  • Facebook: @TheDentalWINEgenist
  • Twitter: @MsSandersRDH
  • LinkedIN: Katrina M. Sanders RDH, BSDH, M.Ed, RF


Image Credit:
Renee Bruns Photography

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