CODHA is fortunate to have Val Cuzella RDH, BAS, leading us as our 2021-2022 CODHA President.
Learn more about her by reading her responses below to questions posed by the Explorer editors.

EDITOR: At what age did you know you wanted to be a dental hygienist?

VAL: I knew I wanted to pursue dental hygiene in my early twenties after my first degree.

EDITOR: What other career options, if any, did you entertain?

VAL: I have a Bachelor’s in psychology from University of Colorado at Boulder graduating in 2008. I was accepted and started an MSW, Master’s in social work at University of Denver (DU) the next year but found out quickly that that was not my path. I had initially pursued this degree to start in the mental health counseling field but found this too taxing for me every day.
After deciding not to continue at DU, I considered other healthcare fields like nursing, physical therapy, etc. I landed on dental hygiene because the hours seemed better than nursing and I knew I had good tactile skill based on my hobby of drawing and painting.

EDITOR: Tell us about your dental hygiene journey—where did you go to school and what types of dental hygiene opportunities/jobs have you worked at, including now?

VAL: I attended the Community College of Denver graduating in 2012 with my AAS and went back again to finish my online BAS also at CCD. I mostly served as a temporary hygienist for a few years right out of school. I have been a part-time and full-time hygienist in several general private practice settings ranging from being the only hygienist to one of five hygienists. In 2019, I briefly was a clinical adjunct faculty at CCD with first year dental hygiene students.
Currently, I work in a small private practice office in Boulder, with a single general dentist who also does grafting, implant-placement and is very compassionate. I have learned a lot working with him. It is very enlightening to see more of the “post referral” process that is done in the office.

EDITOR: What/Who encouraged you or led to you deciding to become involved in CODHA?

VAL: I was a student member at CCD and was encouraged by some faculty who were there at the time to stay involved. While I was always a member, I did not get involved beyond attending our Annual Session until the last four years.
While pursuing my BAS and wanting to explore outside of clinical dental hygiene, I decided to serve as a delegate in 2018 House of Delegates for CODHA. I had a good experience and was inspired by the CODHA leadership, so I served as a delegate again in 2019 and 2020. During these years, I was a member of the membership committee and very encouraged by Amy Rezvani, then the Chair of Membership, to continue learning. I served as the Explorer editor for two years, as CODHA made a digital transition with this quarterly publication.

EDITOR: Why did you decide to pursue the Presidency of CODHA?

VAL: When the pandemic hit, I had skills from serving as Explorer editor, posting to the website and using MailChimp for emails that positioned me to help the rest of the board in getting out very important information to our members. The gravity of the global health crisis of COVID was part of what helped push me to pursue the presidency. Having been involved in the response as someone who had skills to lend to the team and seeing the importance and impact of that I had to step up to serve during this important time. I felt I had relevant collaborative experience to really be effective as president and make the transition easier.
Amy Rezvani, Lisa Westhoff, and Alyssa Aberle all encouraged me when I said I was considering running for president-elect. They all serve as important advisors and mentors ongoing.

EDITOR: What are you hoping to accomplish during your Presidency?

VAL: I hope to get the legislation passed this year to include dental hygienists in the Peer Assistance Services program. I hope to defend the dental hygiene practice act and continue to strengthen our relationships with other organizations and individuals in the dental community such as CDA, CDPHE. We are beginning work on revising and updating our strategic plan which will be rewritten and presented in full to members late next year. Stay tuned for announcements in the Monday email as we want all members’ input to help inform this work.
I also plan to have the CODHA Board of Trustees’ first Diversity and Inclusion and Equity training in its history. I also plan to join other leaders at ADHA annual session to better continue to build-interstate relationships with other dental hygiene leaders.

EDITOR: What do you feel are the most critical issues facing the Profession of Dental Hygiene?

VAL: Different dental hygiene scope in each state causes a wide lack of understanding by the public about what is education and qualifications of a dental hygienist. This exacerbates licensure portability issues throughout the country.
– Adaptability in terms of room to grow in the profession is critical. There are so many wonderful entrepreneurs in the dental hygiene space then when I started my career. The increase in types of opportunities beyond clinical such as medical-dental integration, school-based care, education, authors, speakers, and business owners is vital in our profession being able to continue to adapt to a changing future. This is also vital so that we do not lose talent to other professions with more growth opportunities beyond entry level clinical paths.
– Autonomy is also another critical challenge. To become a self-regulating profession, many more dental hygienists will have to gain graduate level education and skills to enable the structures and human resources necessary to create autonomous structures like a dental hygiene board, dental hygiene education standards, etc.

EDITOR: Why do you feel it is important for every dental hygienist to be a member of ADHA/CODHA?

VAL: Protecting our practice act! CODHA is the only lobbying force in Colorado with purely dental hygiene interests. There is a group currently pursuing dental therapy legislation who did not consult with CODHA or CDA until the last minute. As currently written in the bill, a dental therapist has no specific required education. The dental therapy scope according to this bill would include all of what dental hygienists can do in Colorado and some of what dentists can do. We want to protect consumers to have quality care and we want to protect our profession and standards and scope that generations of Colorado dental hygienists have worked to make a reality.

EDITOR: What would you like to share about your personal life, both growing up and now?

VAL: I had to grow up pretty fast as a kid because my family lost a close family friend in the Columbine shooting. Having experienced loss very young certainly has shaped me and how I treat and interact with others. I can be very blunt and formality is not my strong suit because we all only have so much time here.
I am happy to share my life with my husband, James, who is my confidant, partner in life, and continues to teach me about so many things with which I would have never come into contact. These include various parts of a programming terminal, so much electronic music, and adventures in repairing our house I would have not tackled alone. I am close with my parents and family and a small circle of friends. I am thankful for vaccine access to be able to live more safely with some precautions as my parents are older.
I spend most of my free time with family and friends or on CODHA responsibilities these days.

EDITOR: If you were speaking to a young person considering a career in dental hygiene, what would you share with them about the profession and what advice might you provide?

VAL: I would encourage them to shadow and talk to many different dental hygienists in the field, and to look in more spaces than on social media which can heavily skew negative. I would suggest they serve as a patient to a current dental hygiene student to get more insight to the programs available and be able to talk to current students. I would tell them to get ergonomic loupes and a saddle chair at the beginning of their career. I would emphasize that this is a young and evolving field and that they can make a big impact on its direction and growth.

EDITOR: What advice would you have given to your ‘younger self’?

VAL: Don’t worry too much about mistakes, as long as your best effort is given. There is a programming term from my husband about being “agile and failing fast” to allow code changes. If you make mistakes and something is difficult, that means you are trying and learning. It is a sure way to get closer to the new path and experiences like these teach the most. I’d much rather have an interesting story with twists and turns than to be comfortable all the time but never learn and grow.