In 2012, I had my last correspondence with Dr. Esther Wilkins, concluding with "I hope our paths cross again."

Jan. 16, 2017
Our paths never crossed again. 

Our paths never crossed again. I saw her two or three times afterwards, but she always had the usual crowd of adoring fans surrounding her. So I don't think we ever said anything to each other after May 3, 2012. Earlier on that date, Dr. Wilkins, who passed away on Dec. 12, 2016, had some comments related to an article about her appearance on the cover of RDH (June 2012 issue). I wrote her back about the comments. I must have been troubled that day about something unrelated to our conversation. It was likely a printed or social media comment that a dentist had made about dental hygiene. I knew that she taught a course for dental students so I asked, "Out of curiosity, do you think your dental students have a firm grasp of what hygienists are doing once they finish your course? One gripe I often hear is that dentists spend too little time on preventive care in school and thus lack an appreciation of what their dental hygienists are trying to accomplish."

Dr. Wilkins was kind enough to respond. "I know that at least the dental students here learn very little about what dental hygienists do and can contribute to a practice. I cannot afford to talk of dental hygiene in my workshops because they have so little instruction on how to apply instruments for calculus removal and smoothing the tooth surface that I need to use my time for what is specifically planned as the objective of the course. Definitely, I can say, for many dental schools, that just what you wrote is true: they spend so little time on preventive care that they lack appreciation for what dental hygienists learn and can do for the practice of dentistry."

She then added a comment about advanced dental hygiene practitioners. "So let's hope when we do get ADHP specialists, there will be emphasis on each of the dental specialties, and especially the periodontal ADHP who will be prepared to do the basic periodontal treatment planning and treatment in the general dental practitioners' practices. We already have a few of those going now, of course. Some even have endoscopes, along with advanced nonsurgical instrumentation for the advanced periodontal cases. Just about nothing the dentist does will succeed without the health of the supporting structures-namely, the gingiva, perio tissues, bone, everything."

Those were the last words that I had with the doctor, who was, for a very good reason, affectionately known as the godmother of dental hygiene.

We covered the news of Dr. Wilkins' death on in December. When the sad news became known, I asked a group of dental hygienists to reflect on Dr. Wilkins' contributions to dental hygiene. I used this quote in the DentistryIQ article, but I want to repeat it here. Jackie Sanders, RDH, said, "She shared many valuable insights throughout her life, and we were all her students. Therefore, it is now our responsibility to carry her legacy forward."

I agree. Dr. Wilkins taught you well. Be the best dental hygienist that you can be. It's what she would want.

Mark Hartley

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