They say necessity is the mother of invention, and when maternal instinct told local dental hygienist Carla Lejarraga to keep pushing for the answers behind her daughter’s thumb sucking, she found herself at the forefront of change in the dental industry and is now training other practitioners in the Secrets of the Thumbsucking Clinic.
“I felt really short changed,” Carla recalls. “There’s training we don’t have in our profession that I believe we needed to have, I didn’t know that until I had a problem with one of my own kids and couldn’t find the help we needed, not to the level that I wanted as a parent.”
Carla trained to become an Orofacial Myologist, and her ongoing intensive research revealed that extreme dental work as a result of thumb sucking could often be prevented if specialised training was available to oral health professionals.
It was this research that saw Carla form the Australian Academy of Orafacial Myology with a colleague. They would deliver seminars for dental and speech professionals, the first of its kind in Australia, with the boutique courses now reaching capacity numbers. The course included a two-hour lecture on thumb sucking, and Carla soon realised that the topic required its own dedicated course to cover the depth of research and training she wanted to share.
“I booked a hotel in Brisbane for $1200,” she recalls. “Book and they will come! Not one person signed up.”
There was interest there, but she needed to evaluate the best way to deliver it. “As a person with kids, I know how hard it is to go away, to take time off work for the course, and then come back and implement it,” she says. “It’s also such a head spin of information to squeeze into four days.”
Her business coach suggested that Carla offer an eight-week online course, with videos, print outs, weekly Q&A sessions and access to Carla in real time. Setting the price for the course was terrifying, with Carla initially balking at what her business coach valued it at.
Her coach had suggested that she contact past course participants that might be interested and Carla hilariously relays the story of that first nervous phone call, her voice squeaking out the price. Without hesitating, the client replied that she would do any course Carla was running and asked, “Can we do a payment plan?”
With enrolments locked in, Carla built the course week by week using her research, input from industry professionals and an engaging a videographer to film video modules. It required a tremendous amount of work to collate the research and present it in the weekly modules while delivering the course, and the stress took its toll on her personal life.
“Those eight weeks were terrible,” she shrieks. “My husband and mum still talk about it. I would be up until 3am to make the deadline of each week’s module. Now all the work is done, and it’s just being present and the occasional update.”
Enquiries have been coming in from around the world and Carla admits that people are often surprised to hear that she is based in Townsville. Ignoring the expectation that Townsvillians should be the ones to travel to capital cities, Carla invites course participants to come to her clinic for a one-week training placement.
Carla is set to continue to lead the field in research, as an exciting flow on effect of training and connecting with other industry professionals is that she has a larger pool of clinical data to draw from.
“I had it included in the contracts that I can use everything we talk about, and clinics can keep their data records to send it through to me to collate,” she says. “Our collaboration means I can keep learning, putting more pieces of the puzzle together.”
When asked what she hopes to be remembered for in her profession, Carla beams, “That I am part of the health care team,” she says. “That we cared enough to listen, about their whole health, not just their mouths. As someone who helped, and helped others to help.”