Current Article

“I love educating patients and making a difference in their lives,” said dental hygiene student Paige Montague.

​Contact: Ann Hatch

For immediate release — Aug. 7, 2018

(DALLAS) — Open wide! Now say, “Ahhhhh!” No, not for the doctor. For the dental hygienist.

And what does every dental hygienist see? Teeth, of course, but also an opportunity to educate, promote good overall health and build relationships with patients.

“Dental hygiene is important because the head is connected to the body, and a healthy mouth leads to a healthy body,” said Dr. Sheila Vandenbush, who directs the dental hygiene program at El Centro College. “A healthy smile is everything. A bad smile hurts a child’s development. It can prevent people from getting jobs. A good smile sells you.”

El Centro dental hygiene student Paige Montague agrees. “I love educating patients and making a difference in their lives. I want to help patients and to teach them about periodontal diseases and why good dental health is so important,” she said.

Montague, who is president of El Centro’s SADA chapter, the Student American Dental Hygienists’ Association, added, “The school and program are amazing. The program is competitive and difficult. The faculty are building us into who we’ll become professionally, teaching us how to build relationships and helping us be the best we can be.”

Montague, who entered the dental hygiene program in 2017, is now a senior and plans to graduate with her associate degree in 2019. She loves dentistry and has been a dental hygiene assistant for nine years. “I enjoy working with adults and have been doing that for many years. I can make a difference in adults’ lives so that they can make a difference in their kids’ lives,” she said.

Montague and other dental hygiene students at El Centro work with patients in its two-year-old clinic filled with new, state-of-the-art equipment in muted white settings with bright blue curtains and sunshine that brightens each operatory where patients sit. And they come from communities where they can least afford a trip to see a dental hygienist.

Education and Service Help the Community

El Centro’s dental hygiene program welcomes its third class in fall 2018; it graduated its first 13 students this May. “We have a tough curriculum and highly-motivated students who are here to engage in patient care and to build careers that pay well — usually $35 to $37 per hour when they go to their first job,” said Vandenbush. “We also teach students to be prepared for any experience in a dental office.

“Doctors often say that our dental hygiene students are better trained. We push them harder so that when they go to a dentist’s office, they are better prepared,” she added.

“We have a 100 percent pass rate on clinical boards,” said Vandenbush, “and we provide free community service through our clinic for patients ages 0 through adults. Infants receive ‘happy visits,’ and adults receive comprehensive dental hygiene cleanings.”

The El Centro Dental Hygiene Clinic will operate four days a week beginning with the fall 2018 semester. In 2017, students saw 2,457 patients. “They come because they hear about us from others who have been to the clinic. Word of mouth attracts patients,” said Vandenbush. “The clinic also works with other community clinics in the area — such as Head Start — and our students also recruit patients through their churches and elsewhere. We even use Craig’s List.”

When patients schedule an appointment at the clinic, they go through a screening process that matches their needs with students who have those skills. Generally, the clinic has a waiting list. Recalls — or return visits — are scheduled so that students can establish relationships with patients and see how their instructions helped. The clinic also can help find dentists who will treat patients on a sliding scale.

Additionally, the El Centro Dental Hygiene Clinic participates in community service events with agencies such as Vogal Alcove, the Mexican Consulate, the Dallas Juvenile Detention Center, Catholic Charities and Nexus.

“We go to organizations with populations who are the most diverse and have the most need — underserved populations,” said Vandenbush. “Students learn by getting clinical experience as well as by providing services to underserved persons. The clinic provides a valuable, comprehensive learning experience.”

Young, Old and in Between — Dental Hygiene Jobs Build Smiles, Careers

Meesha Mammen loves the dentist. At age five, she went to work with her mother, who was a dental assistant, and “shadowed” her uncle, a dentist. Mammen opted to start her career as a registered dental assistant and then decided to become a dental hygienist.

Meesha Mammen said, “I want everyone to know they can keep their teeth for a lifetime and that preventive care is great.”

“I entered the field because I like helping people, from whitening (teeth) to education. I want everyone to know they can keep their teeth for a lifetime and that preventive care is great,” said Mammen. “It all starts with teaching kids good habits and also helping parents, too. Losing your teeth is not inevitable, and I want them to know that.”

Mammen, who works part time for a pediatric orthodontist and started at El Centro in 2017, loves working with children. She explained, “Sometimes they come in and they’re very shy — they don’t want to smile. By the end of their visit, they are all smiles!”

And she hopes that she will be hired full time where she works now, Issa Orthodontics, when she graduates from El Centro because she wants to do clinical work and also because “it’s like a family.” El Centro dental hygiene students often receive job offers before they finish the program. Montague, for example, already has a job lined up with the dentist she now works for, Dr. David Hubbell in The Colony.

In Texas, dental hygienists must be licensed. El Centro’s program prepares graduates to take the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and a regional clinical board so that they can apply for licensure from the State Board of Dental Examiners.

Careers in dental hygiene are estimated to grow by 20 percent over the next 10 years. CareerOneStop lists dental hygiene as third on its list of top 45 careers with the most job opportunities through 2024.

“Our students educate patients on oral health and why it’s important. They learn to spot abnormalities in the teeth, head and face and identify other potential medical problems so that they can be referred to others. We often spot hypertension through screenings.

“And we see the patients no one else will see — many do not have the economic means to pay for the dental hygiene care they need; others have severe handicaps,” said Vandenbush. “We are educating our students and patients, and we are fulfilling the needs of the community. We’re very proud of that.”

For details about the El Centro College dental hygiene program, contact Jesse Elizardo by phone at 972-860-5007 or by email at, or contact Vandenbush at

# # #

Visit our Dental Hygiene program profile webpage at to learn more. At the bottom of the page, sign up for our Tell Me More email series for even more information.