Malita Chaffier is a 2023 dental hygiene graduate of the School of Dentistry.
Malita Chaffier is a 2023 dental hygiene graduate of the School of Dentistry.
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#UMMCGrad2023: Patient care a passion for dental hygiene grad

Published on Monday, May 15, 2023

By: Ruth Cummins

Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications

Malita Chaffier ruled the field as pitcher for the Holmes Community College Lady Bulldogs.

But when it came time to make a decision on continuing in the sport at a four-year college or switching to a health sciences school, Chaffier didn’t struggle too much.

“I wanted to go ahead and start my life,” said the Pearl resident who graduates May 26 from the dental hygiene program at the UMMC School of Dentistry.

“At first, I wanted to be a veterinarian. But, I didn’t want to go to that many years of school,” she said. “I started looking at other health care fields.”

The Department of Dental Hygiene, which transitioned there from the School of Health Related Professions in 2017, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2022. 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.

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.

When she started the program, Chaffier said, “I was really nervous about seeing patients. The first time we had clinic was in the summer, on my birthday. I had a patient and was so nervous.

“But, we had classes that helped us through, and we would work on each other. That built up my confidence.”

Portrait of Angelia Garner

It’s been a pleasure to watch Chaffier develop into an oral health care provider, said Dr. Angelia Garner, an associate professor in the dental hygiene program. “Although she no longer plays collegiate softball, she has maintained her willingness to help others and will be a very valuable member to any dental practice,” Garner said. 

“She possesses an easy-going demeanor that puts the most anxious patients at ease,” Garner said. “During our Dental Mission Week this last February, I watched her provide care to a very frightened patient. By the end of the appointment, Malita helped to minimize some of the patient’s dental fears.

“The patient has since returned to the dental hygiene clinic for care.”

Seeing patients has become one of the best parts of Chaffier’s education. “I can apply the things we’ve learned from lecture classes clinically to my patients,” she said. “I can see the way I’ve grown since the first semester of clinicals, and I’ve made some really good friends.”

Chaffier is on her job search, trying to decide between entering a private practice or joining a corporate group of dentists. “I’d like working in both settings,” she said.

She still finds time to go to the gym every day as she finishes her graduation requirements. “I like to watch Netflix and sleep,” Chaffier said.

And softball?

“I needed a break from it,” Chaffier said. “But in the future, I might play coed.”