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School dental hygienist

June 1, 2009
This month, I want to spotlight a school dental hygienist. She graduated from the undergraduate and graduate program at the University of New Mexico (UNM).
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by Christine Nathe, RDH, MS
[email protected]

This month, I want to spotlight a school dental hygienist. She graduated from the undergraduate and graduate program at the University of New Mexico (UNM). Missy McDougal-Plese, RDH, also teaches at UNM and is the American Dental Hygienists' Association Student Member Advisor. She has been very involved in the local and state dental hygiene associations and speaks on school-based health-care initiatives to a variety of audiences. I recently asked her a few questions about her career.

Why did you decide to go into dental hygiene?

My first real interest in oral health developed when I was a teenager. I wore orthodontics and became obsessed with keeping my braces clean. The idea of having something stuck in my braces for everyone to see completely mortified me. So, I guess you could say my interest in dental hygiene at a personal level came from pure vanity!

My personal attention to oral hygiene developed into the thought that maybe dental hygiene was a profession that I would want to pursue. My childhood dentist, realizing I was interested in the dental professions, recruited me to work in his dental office. I began working in his dental office the summer after I graduated high school. That same summer, he hired a newly graduated dental hygienist. It was really my dentist's encouragement and the dental hygienist's excitement and willingness to share her knowledge that encouraged me to pursue dental hygiene as a career.

How did you get into dental public health? Did you need additional education?

I was introduced to dental public health while both an undergraduate and graduate student at University of New Mexico's Division of Dental Hygiene. I feel very fortunate to have been educated in a state as well as at a university that recognizes the significance of dental public health and therefore provides a variety of opportunities as a dental hygienist.

As part of my graduate education, I worked within one of UNM's school-based dental clinics. It was that experience that really allowed me to see firsthand the benefit that public health dental hygienists can have within a community, as well as the advantages of working in an untraditional practice setting.

After obtaining my master's in dental hygiene, I was invited to become a faculty member at UNM. As part of my faculty responsibilities, I coordinate and provide preventive services within our school-based dental clinics. The fact that I did pursue an advanced degree has been a benefit to me on many levels. The knowledge I obtained while carrying out my graduate education has definitely improved my abilities as an educator, researcher, clinician, and dental public health advocate.

What are your current positions?

I am an assistant professor at University of New Mexico, Health Sciences Center, Division of Dental Hygiene. I coordinate our school-based dental clinics. Currently, UNM has one school-based health center (SBHC) dental clinic within a public middle school, and we are working to expand our services to two additional schools. I also serve as the SADHA advisor for our students at UNM.

Can you discuss any particularly interesting experiences you have had in your dental public health positions?

Every day is a new experience with new adventures. I truly enjoy working with the students, teachers, staff, and administrators at the school. The students I treat really educate me as much as I educate them.

School-based health centers are a unique way to provide care to the youth of communities while simultaneously addressing many of the unmet and untreated health issues that are experienced by countless Americans.

It has been exciting for me to work within an existing SBHC and participate in the expansion of school-baseddental clinics within my community. It gives me personal satisfaction knowing that I am using my professional skills to help bring dental services to those children that without school-based dental clinics may otherwise not receive any dental care.

About the Author

Christine Nathe, RDH, MS, is a professor and graduate program director at the University of Neaw Mexico, Division of Dental Hygiene, in Albuquerque. She is also the author of “Dental Public Health” (, which is in its second edition with Prentice Hall. She can be reached at [email protected] or (505) 272-8147.