Dentistry was a natural choice career for dental hygienist Ellie Bicha.
First, it’s the family business. Bicha works with her sister, dentist Mandy Stebbins, at Stebbins Dental Studio in Whitefish. Their uncle founded Stebbins Orthodontics in Kalispell, which his son-in-law now owns. And one of her cousins even practiced equine dentistry.
Second, it’s a job that allows her to reach out and help people whether through her work at Stebbins Dental Studio or through volunteer work. Bicha volunteers for Shepherd’s Hand free dental clinic, the Sealant for Smiles Program and teaches dental hygiene at elementary schools.
“I’m a hygienist and when I’m in the clinic I’m cleaning teeth all the time, but at Shepherd’s Hand it’s mostly doing emergency care for people who are in lots of pain,” she said. “The overall feel can be a lot more gratifying too, because you feel like you’re really helping people [who are in need].”
The Montana Dental Hygienists’ Association recently awarded Bicha the 2016 Community Leadership Award, which recognizes hygienists who have proven extraordinary service to the field of dental hygiene and contribution to the community. Bicha was honored at the Montana Dental Hygienists’ Association annual session in Billings last month.
Bicha said she got started in volunteer work while she was looking for jobs in Kalispell and Whitefish. Once she started working, the volunteer opportunities didn’t stop.
“There’s just a lot of opportunities out there right now. I’d have a patient in the chair that was a teacher at an elementary school and they’d say, ‘hey, would you want to come teach my class how to brush their teeth?’” she said.
“I definitely love going into the schools. I think that’s one of my favorite things just because I love the kids,” she said.
Bicha knew from the start her career would revolve around medicine and people, but when she tried her hand at being a certified nursing assistant it was obvious she wasn’t cut out for the job.
“Dentistry is more upbeat and positive,” she said. “I mean, there’s hard things with dentistry too, but you’re not dealing as much with people that are sick or dying.”
The fun part about her job, she said, is working with kids, especially those who aren’t yet sold on the dentist’s office being a fun place to be.
“It’s fun having kids in the chair. I love getting to have new patients come in that are scared and haven’t been to the dentist in a long time and they don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I love being able to kind of make their first experience back at the dentist a fun thing, something that’s informative and educational and not scary.”
Originally from Kalispell, Bicha left the Flathead Valley after college to work in Montrose, Colorado, before returning to work in Billings for eight years. She felt too far from family, however, so two years ago she and husband Fred brought their two kids, Katie and Peyton, back to her home.
“Being back in the Flathead is so much fun, in the summertime we’re just camping a lot and going out on the lake and going hiking,” she said. “My kids take up most of my time when I’m not working. They’re kind of my hobby.”