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Hygienist expands into school-based clinics

April 1, 2012
The dental hygienist interviewed in this month’s column is directly responsible for the high school dental clinic that I wrote about last month.

The dental hygienist interviewed in this month’s column is directly responsible for the high school dental clinic that I wrote about last month. Diana B. Aboytes, RDH, MS, coordinates our school-based dental clinics.

Diana Aboytes, RDH, MS, with Chris O’Donnell, RN, MBS, school-based coordinator, and Marshall Molar from Delta Dental of New Mexico, which sponsored the recently established Highland High School dental clinic.

Because of her success in other public schools, we were able to add another setting for children to receive dental care. She cares deeply for her patients, which is showcased in her clinic success. Equally important is that she cares deeply for her dental hygiene students, which is showcased in the success of her students. She has been involved in dental public health program development in New Mexico, and is a vital member of the public health community.

Recently, I asked Diana some questions about her dental hygiene career.

Why did you decide to go into dental hygiene?

When starting college and looking into different careers and professions, the only thing I was certain of was that I wanted to work in the health field and take care of people.

I couldn’t help but remember that, unfortunately, as a child I spent a fair share of time in a dental office. The smell of the eugenol and the sound of the handpiece were forever singed into my brain. Somehow, my brother is the one who ate all of the candy, yet I was the one who got the cavities. Go figure!

I also remembered my visits with the dental hygienist. Her focus was on keeping things healthy, and I always left those appointments feeling good. It was because of her that I began to enjoy my six-month visits to that office.

So, I decided to start with dental assisting school to be sure that the dental profession was something in which I truly wanted to invest my time. One month into school, I knew for certain that I wanted to do more for myself as well as my patients, and dental hygiene was definitely going to be in my future. I immediately started prerequisite courses for dental hygiene, and continued working as a registered dental assistant until I graduated from dental hygiene school.

How did you get into dental public health?

After receiving an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, I decided to continue my education and pursue my baccalaureate degree. This decision proved to be a benefit right from the beginning. As part of one of my courses, I was offered the opportunity to be a part of a project that was getting underway in one of our local public middle schools. Using a small mobile dental unit placed in the corner of the teacher’s lounge, I began providing preventive dental services to the students. It was my first experience as a dental hygienist working outside the traditional private practice setting.

In 2006, I began working on a master’s degree. With this additional education, I learned more about oral health and the many different ways it is integrated into public health. I learned about project development and program management. Upon graduating, two additional school-based dental clinics were opening, and I was offered a full-time position as the school-based dental clinic coordinator. This additional education not only provided me with knowledge, but opened the door to a variety of opportunities.

What are your current positions?

I am currently the school-based dental clinic coordinator. I coordinate the operation of four preventive dental clinics located within the public schools. There is currently a team of six dental hygienists including myself and two dentists who are providing the actual services to the students.

I am also an assistant professor in the Division of Dental Hygiene at the University of New Mexico. As part of our dental hygiene curriculum, students are able to complete rotations at the school-based health center (SBHC) dental clinics, exposing them to the different opportunities that they may pursue once they become practicing dental hygienists.

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

One overall interesting experience while working in school-based health that I was not expecting was how great it was to work daily as part of an interdisciplinary team. SBHCs are made up of a variety of providers such as nurse practitioners, physician’s assistants, health educators, behavioral health therapists, counselors, etc. Working so closely with other providers and having their expertise just next door ensures complete care of the patient. I became more in tune with looking beyond the mouth and recognizing other clues that prompted me to refer for their services. I noticed that they began to do the same and found it interesting to discover that for some of the students, this was their first time ever to visit any kind of dental office.

What type of advice would you give to a practicing hygienist who is thinking of doing something different?

Identify all of your resources and explore all of your options. Contact hygienists in the settings that you think you are interested in and inquire about how they got started doing what they are doing. Contact your local and state dental hygiene associations, and get involved. Remember, just like in other professions, some positions will require a higher degree level. Go back to school, and begin working on a higher level of education.


Diana is a great example of a dental hygienist who truly has a passion for her chosen career. She uses her passion to build clinics for those in need. By using her skills and talents, she provides care to many children who would have difficulty obtaining care. By starting these clinics, she subsequently advances our profession!

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

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