Prior to becoming a dental hygienist, Elmer Gonzalez, PhD, MBA, RDH, worked in a group home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. At the home, he noticed the residents’ poor oral hygiene and the lack of oral health training in their caregivers. After earning his bachelor’s in Spanish with a minor in psychology, Gonzalez spoke to one of his cousins in the dental hygiene program. He decided to return to college for his degree in dental hygiene.
Upon receiving his dental hygiene degree, Gonzalez went directly into public health and worked in a special needs clinic at the University of New Mexico. One of his biggest achievements was collaborating with community agencies to implement oral health programs.
He has spent much of his career teaching dental hygiene to students at two universities in New Mexico. He teaches the importance of oral health promotion and disease prevention, and then sends his students to apply their skills in underserved communities.
At New Mexico State University–Doña Ana Community College, Gonzalez secured grants to implement the first school-based clinic in a public middle school in Las Cruces, New Mexico. His students provide free preventive dental hygiene services to all children enrolled at the school.
Another of his accomplishments is a dental hygiene program aimed at providing free preventive services to preschool children and infants enrolled in a local program that serves children from families who are homeless or nearly homeless. A third program provides free preventive services at the Federally Qualified Health Center in collaboration with the community college.
Also, this spring he helped establish a new dental hygiene clinic to provide people from some of the poorest New Mexican communities with access to dental hygiene services. These communities are in southern New Mexico and close to the US–Mexico border.
As part of his master’s degree thesis, Gonzalez developed training for community agencies where he introduced an oral health program to train caregivers. Since then, he has acquired two more master’s degrees and a doctorate.
His greatest satisfaction is the impact his efforts have made in improving access to preventive dental hygiene services in communities that could not afford them, while providing future hygienists with the skills necessary to make a difference.
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