Dental hygiene at UMMC turns 50
Published on Monday, December 5, 2022
By: Ruth Cummins, firstname.lastname@example.org
Debbie Dixon Glorioso says it’s hard to believe half a century has gone by since she was in the first graduating dental hygiene class at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
The year was 1970. She had just finished her freshman year at Mississippi University for Women. Glorioso’s father, a dentist, encouraged her to become a dental hygienist.
“When we heard there was a new program, I wasn’t sure what to do,” the Ridgeland resident said. “That far back, you only had to have a year of college before entering dental hygiene school.”
Dental hygiene was housed in the School of Health Related Professions. “There were nine people in our class, but one had to drop out,” Glorioso said. “We were all very close.”
When they graduated in 1972, “we wore white caps, white pantsuits and white clinic shoes,” Glorioso said. The caps had a lavender stripe, “something particular to dental hygiene, and it separated you from the nursing students.”
Fifty years later, the Department of Dental Hygiene is located in the School of Dentistry after transitioning from SHRP in 2017. About 85 students apply annually for a coveted 20 openings in the state’s only bachelor of science in dental hygiene program. It gives them the rich experience of learning alongside students in the state’s sole dental school.
“I walk by the pictures of every student in every class, and history is looking back at me. Everywhere I turn, I see how dental hygiene has been woven throughout the fabric of UMMC,” said Dr. Elizabeth Carr (SHRP ’00), professor and chair of the department since January 2019. She succeeded Dr. Beckie Barry, who served for 15 years as chair before her 2019 retirement after almost 39 years on faculty.
“We have such rich roots at SHRP, but we have grown new roots at the School of Dentistry,” Carr said. “It’s been a wonderful run, being here and watching it change.”
The last 50 years have seen 921 students graduate from the traditional dental hygiene program and 57 from the online program. There’s no limit on online enrollment, with as many as 12 students per semester taking classes virtually.
The traditional students shine in their 95.3 percent 10-year success rate for national board examinations. The online advanced standing students not only gain a baccalaureate degree, but also lifelong learning opportunities.
Barry, professor emeritus of dental hygiene, was hired as an instructor in 1980 by the late Mary Atha Ward Akerly, the second chair of the dental hygiene program. Akerly joined the SHRP faculty in 1970 and retired in 1991. Florence Semeyn served as acting director of the program from 1970-74. Akerly then became acting director and was named department chair in 1976.
Barry served as clinic coordinator and clinic director before being named dental hygiene chair in 2001, succeeding Susan Daniel. Barry was instrumental in helping to coordinate dental hygiene’s move from SHRP to SOD.
Former SOD Dean Dr. David Felton approached Dr. Ralph Didlake, who recently retired as associate vice chancellor for academic affairs, about bringing dental hygiene into the SOD, Barry said. “He felt like it was a better fit,” she remembered.
“We moved the dental hygiene clinic to the SOD in 1996, but there was a big gap before we actually moved the department,” Barry said. “Before, there wasn’t the interaction we have now. You have dental hygiene faculty teaching dental students. The dental students interact more with the dental hygiene students.”
“It’s like we came home. It was a good shift for us to be part of the dental school, and we’ve never looked back,” Carr said.
Barry was among faculty on the front lines of dental hygiene education in the early years. “When I began teaching, the class size was 28, but one of the biggest changes was when we went from certificate to baccalaureate in 1985.”
Then in 2012, the new online degree program allowed practicing certificate dental hygienists the opportunity to earn their bachelor of science.
Technology, Carr said, has been “a huge driver of change. We use digital X-rays now. Textbooks being available online and in book form has changed things a lot.”
Dr. Sandra Horne, who retired from UMMC in 2022 after 25 years on the dental hygiene faculty, graduated from the program in 1981. “I remember Beckie as one of my teachers. She was coming from an outside environment and brought real-world learning to us in the clinic,” Horne said.
Horne served as clinic director and taught instrumentation, or how a hygienist uses instruments in a patient’s mouth to provide oral care. In the mid-2000s, “we change over to a competency based learning system for clinic in which the students were given tests on their skills proficiency in addition to removal of calculus and plaque,” she said. “That type teaching within the clinic made for a better student.”
In 2021, Horne became the first Mississippian to be named the American Dental Hygienists’ Association Educator of the Year. It’s a personal point of pride, but “for dental hygiene, I’m most proud of the educational component.”
When Christy Logan graduated from the dental hygiene program in 1991, she was among the first to earn the bachelor’s degree. “We were the last of the small classes. There were eight. We had so many wonderful opportunities and experiences,” said Logan, now a dental hygienist at the SOD.
Today’s dental hygiene students continue that tradition, working for the first time alongside dental students at the Jackson Free Clinic in the 2022-23 school year.
Logan earned her prerequisites at Mississippi Delta Community College and Delta State University before transferring to UMMC. “Mrs. Akerly was so good to us, and Beckie Barry. They loved us like we were their own.
“The space in the dental school is really amazing,” Logan said. “It’s nice to be part of the dental school rather than feeling like you are on the outside looking in.”
Fourth-year student Yarenni Valdez is humbled she’s graduating in such a historic year. “It’s amazing to be part of something so huge,” she said. “That’s an honor in itself.”
“It’s a pretty big moment. It’s exciting,” fourth-year student Hunter Cate Brown said.
They will take with them the tools for success. “Dr. Carr explains things in such an easy way. She makes dental hygiene fun,” Valdez said. “And Dr. Horne was amazing. She really taught me how to be more patient-centered.”
Glorioso worked for 18 years as a hygienist in Jackson before transitioning to part-time practice, retiring five years ago. “When someone asks me how long I’ve been a dental hygienist, I feel like telling them to look in the dictionary under dinosaur and they’ll see me,” she joked.
Carr has a vision that is rooted in reality. “The first big overarching plan for us is to become integrated into the School of Dentistry’s IPC clinic,” she said. “Having the dental team together gives them a model for what they’ll be doing in real life.”
Begun as a pilot in summer 2022, the Integrated Patient Care clinic allows third- and fourth-year dental students to address all of a patient’s needs that can be taken care of in one visit, in the same chair where their treatment begins. Instead of asking a patient to come back for work that wasn’t planned, students give treatment that day without the patient moving from department to department for various procedures.
“I go over the 41 years that I’ve been a dental hygienist, and I think: Where did those years go?” Horne said. “It’s mind-boggling that it’s been that many years – 50 years here for us, and 100 years for the dental hygiene profession.”