Shlonda Russell grew up in a little town in Southeastern Oklahoma. Situated along Cloudy Creek, the aptly named town of Cloudy is less of a town than it is a dozen or so houses along, you guessed it, Cloudy Road. But the local sources of income dried up and, when she was 15, she and her family moved to Moore, Okla.
Shlonda, who has never had trouble making friends, quickly settled into her new life in the big city. She graduated from high school and went on to work as a manager at Long John Silver’s, where she met her husband, Collin. He was a frequent customer who, unbeknownst to Shlonda, had developed quite the crush. When he finally worked up the nerve to ask her on a date, that was it. They married a few months later, moved to Norman and, three years and a day after their wedding, their daughter, Lauren, was born.
Shlonda, a new mother, had switched jobs and loved where she worked. Everything seemed to be falling into place. Until the company she worked for was sold to a competitor, leaving Shlonda and her coworkers with severance packages instead of jobs.
They say, when one door closes, another one opens, and that was exactly the case for Shlonda.
“I got started in dentistry because I was always interested in teeth and I knew I needed get a good skill,” Shlonda said. “But when you like a job, and all of a sudden it’s taken away from you because of a sale, it’s hard. So I went back to school and that’s hard when you have a newborn.”
You might think you know the next part of this story, that Shlonda finished school and came to work at Dental Depot, but the truth is, she only joined our family about four years ago.
“When you’re in school, they tell you to stay away from big companies because they don’t care about you, that they just want to run you through like a cattle call,” Shlonda said.
So, heeding the school’s advice, she began her new career in private practice. And like so many dental assistants, Shlonda soon found herself on the brink of burnout.
“The spark was starting to lose its glimmer and there was hardly any hope, because of where I was working,” Shlonda said. “There was no opportunity for advancement, learning, or technology. I was stuck in a rut.”
Burnout is a familiar feeling in the dental field, and it affects everyone from the front office staff to dental assistants and dentists. It’s most common in people who feel underappreciated and overworked, or, like Shlonda, unable to grow.
“When I decided to venture out, I didn’t know if I had the capabilities of working in a place with modern technology like at [Dental Depot],” Shlonda said. “But they took a chance on me. I knew it was a good opportunity and I haven’t looked back since.”
Shlonda found her ‘spark’ again at Dental Depot, and she uses it to provide her patients with an unprecedented dental experience.
“You hear parents talk about their child’s past cleanings or dental work, or how their child isn’t comfortable even looking at a dental chair,” Shlonda said. “That tells me whatever experience they’ve had before; they need a little extra time taken.”
Shlonda is unfalteringly patient and loving with everyone who sits in her dental chair, especially those with special needs or dental anxieties. In fact, a parent of two of our patients with special needs took the time to reach out about just how well Shlonda cared for her two children.
“Shlonda was extremely welcoming to my kids. My son, Logan, has Tourette’s Syndrome and my daughter, Emily, has high functioning Autism,” Tiffany Laxton wrote. “My daughter typically has bad experiences and sometimes refuses to let [the] tools go into her mouth.
“Yesterday, Shlonda was very patient with Emily. She made sure she was comfortable and even gave her a warm blanket to make her feel more comfortable. Emily did not fight with instruments or the spin brush in her mouth! It was amazing to watch her do so well!”
While many of our dental assistants enjoy working with special needs patients, Shlonda’s level of understanding and encouragement is personal.
“My godson is 18 years old. He has Tourette’s Syndrome. If you looked at him, you’d think he was a typical young man,” Shlonda said. “A lot of folks, when they hear he’s got special needs, they start talking to him differently or give him a different kind of respect, or sometimes they don’t even give him the time.”
Shlonda describes her godson as a bright young man who recently achieved the rank of Eagle Scout, graduated high school, and now holds down a job he enjoys.
“And that’s because of the way he was brought up, that there is nothing wrong with him,” Shlonda said. “We’re all on the same page about how we’ve raised him. I’m very proud of him.”
As for a patient who left a lasting impression on Shlonda, she recalled a boy who came into Dental Depot Moore. He had come from a pediatric dental chain where the child’s parents had been told dental work would be impossible without sedation, but his parents decided to seek a second opinion.
“They brought him in here on the off-chance that somebody could help him,” Shlonda said. “I just talked to him like a normal person, asked him questions about himself. He was able to gain some confidence and reassurance that I wasn’t there to hurt him.”
The patient and his parents were so comfortable that he was able to start treatment that same day, without sedation. Later that day, the boy and his family returned to our Moore office and presented Shlonda with a thank you card.
“Anyone can say they’ve worked with children with special needs and made them comfortable, but it really got to my heart, because not only did he become a dedicated patient, but he became a part of our Dental Depot family as well,” Shlonda said.
And for the estimated 1-in-6 people in Oklahoma who live with one or more disabilities, we’re sure he won’t be the last patient who Shlonda makes a lasting impression on. She’s found that she flourishes at Dental Depot and wants to continue to serve patients and their families for many years to come.
“There are a lot of people with a long tenure at Dental Depot, and I want to continue to be one of those,” Shlonda said.
When Shlonda isn’t with her work family, she’s spending time with her family and excitedly preparing to welcome her first grandchild — a baby boy — River, who is due in March 2019.
“Of course I’ll take whatever [River] calls me, but I would love for him to call me, ‘G-Ma,’ ‘cause sometimes I feel like I’m not the typical grandmother,” Shlonda said.
Of course, we can’t forget to mention the best-dog-she-could-ever-ask-for, Rudi Jayne, a feisty Chihuahua-Jack Russell Terrier.
“She’s my snuggle buddy. She’s clung to me from the first day I got her and hasn’t left my side since,” Shlonda said. “She never sits on the furniture; she sits on my lap. I’m the furniture. And Rudi Jayne is the light of my life.”
Shlonda and her family enjoy attending OU sporting events and growing their faith at Fresh Start Community Church in Moore.
Shlonda was nominated for Employee of the Month by her coworkers at Dental Depot West Norman.
“She has such a good attitude and she is always so warm to the patients. She deserves this recognition not only today, but every day!”
“Shlonda is very knowledgeable and capable. She applies great detail and purpose to each procedure when she assists the doctor and when training new employees. Shlonda assures the patient that she will be attentive to their needs and treat them with the utmost respect and care. She is our go-to person and makes coming to work every day a joy!” Jill Goldie, office manager, Dental Depot West Norman
Dental Depot is a locally owned and operated family company. As such, we believe that the incredible group of doctors, hygienists, assistants and staff that make up Dental Depot are more than their job titles; they’re members of our extended family. In our family, we like to recognize when someone goes above and beyond, living the Dental Depot values. This January, we are proud to shine a spotlight on Employee of the Month Shlonda Russel.