In touch with alumni: Q&A with LeeAnn Winkler

February 11th, 2016

LeeAnn Winkler, Class of 1982, on campus at TAMBCDThis Dentistry Insider quick-read offers a glimpse into the lives of Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry alums, each with a different approach to the dental profession.

During their respective presidencies for the Texas Dental Hygienists’ Association and the Dallas County Dental Society, LeeAnn Urbanowski Winkler ’82 and her longtime employer, Dr. Chris Miller ’84, followed a mutual agreement: Keep the discussions in the office patient-focused.

Coming off the 2015 legislative session and the logjam of hot button topics that often comes with it — Winkler herself, now TDHA’s immediate past president, testified to the Texas Senate Committee on Health & Human Services in favor of a bill that would allow dental hygienists to administer local anesthesia. It’s interesting to note that it was Miller, immediate past president of the Dallas County Dental Society, who encouraged her to get re-involved in her state and local hygiene associations seven years ago, when she joined his team.

Now Winkler, a veteran delegate to the American Dental Hygienists’ Association and former president of the Dallas Dental Hygienists’ Society, explains the origins of her penchant for leadership, her foray into the field of (volunteer) law enforcement and her take on the hallmarks of the dental hygiene profession.

You’re entering your 34th year as a dental hygienist. During that time how has your profession changed?

Really one of the few things that has changed is the ability to use lasers within our scope of practice for bacterial decontamination. Otherwise, most of our scope of practice as dental hygienists has remained the same.

What “constants” have remained?

The constant is still the patient care. We are treating the entire patient; we are not just doing cleanings. We’ve understood the oral-systemic connection the whole time. It’s not just “go in and clean the patient’s teeth and send them home,” it’s also about letting them know how their mouth affects other parts of the body.

What was it like to testify to the Texas Senate Health Committee in support of House Bill 1409?

It was very scary; there were five testifying for and five testifying against. I went next to last and had to respond to the testimony against the bill and not just present what I had written.

How you got involved in leadership roles:

I’m the next to oldest of seven children. I guess I have a natural mom instinct with five younger brothers. It was either take charge or be run over.

Volunteer work of the non-dental hygiene variety:

I was a member of the Mesquite Citizens Police Academy Alumni Association. I volunteered for three or four years before I went inactive. It was fun. You go through 11 weeks of classes three hours, once a week. We were in one class, and here comes the SWAT team barging in through the door to test us. We volunteered at the jail and helped monitor and answer phones. We manned fingerprinting for city licenses. Mesquite even purchased a citizens police vehicle that we used to tag cars with outstanding warrants or that were stolen. I also served as president of the University of North Texas Parent Association.

Taking a step away from dental hygiene for a moment, what is one item on your bucket list?

I want to go to Australia. Growing up I was not a teddy bears girl but preferred koalas. My daughter even took me to the Dallas Zoo to see the koalas on exhibit there. I want to go to Australia to see the koalas in their natural environment and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. It’s amazing what God does underwater.

When you knew this career was for you:

When I was in high school. My mom was a nurse, and even though she quit practicing when she had her first child, she was the “neighborhood nurse” go-to. One of my youngest brothers was running down the stairs and fell over the banister and cut his head. I was the one who got to hold the towel to his head on the way to the ER. I thought, “What else can I do that doesn’t have to involve so much blood?”

One memory from your time at Caruth:

I actually lived in the nursing school dorm on Junius and walked back and forth to school. While I was here I had my wisdom teeth removed. I can remember waiting for my roommate — Caruth ’82 grad Debi Brice Taylor— to get out of class, and we walked back to the dorm together.

— Jennifer Fuentes