Mary Ann Howland, left, and Tilar Cleaver embrace for a photo at the CHC/SEK-Iola dental clinic.

Inspired: Dental assistant becomes dental hygienist 

Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas Dental Hygienist Tilar Cleaver, in her opinion, had one of the best hygienists growing up, and now she works with her.   

That hygienist is Mary Ann Howland, who now works as a dental hygienist for CHC/SEK’s dental outreach in Iola, helps children get dental care right at school.   

“She was probably one of the first reasons I wanted to be a hygienist,” Tilar says. “You really could tell she loved her job, and I wanted that too! It’s been great to have her as a mentor while starting my hygiene career.”  

Tilar started her interest in a dental career early in high school. When she came for her appointments, she always asked questions about Mary Ann’s job. As her interest grew, Tilar came to Mary Ann’s office and job shadowed her several times.  

As Tilar approached high school graduation, their visits turned to the educational requirements for a hygienist. Mary Ann told Tilar that her career started as a dental assistant and that she thought it was an excellent background for anyone interested in a hygiene career.      

“Tilar completed her assistant education and was a natural in the dental office,” Mary Ann says. “I was delighted when that training helped her to take that next step. Tilar is a remarkable young lady, and I know she has an impact on every patient that she cares for.  

“It is such a delight to not only be a part of Tilar’s career but to work with her gives us a special bond. I have no doubt that she too will become a mentor for others who are interested in a dental career.”  

Tilar, who started her career at CHC/SEK as a dental assistant in 2019, said it was one of her favorite jobs.   

“It felt very rewarding to be helping so many people that came into this clinic,” she says, adding that she still had plans to become a dental hygienist, so she went back to school to complete her dental hygiene education.  

“I loved being a dental assistant, but I wanted more; I wanted to help people myself and gain more knowledge,” she says. “Being a dental hygienist would allow me to be the provider and have more relationships with my patients.”  

Growing up, Tilar always thought being a hygienist was just “cleaning teeth.”   

“Boy, was I wrong,” she says. “It’s so much more. Many people also have that idea of hygiene, and it’s not that simple.”   

Tilar says a large role of a dental hygienist is preventive care. At patients’ initial appointments, hygienists assess their oral health condition, including medical history, radiographs, periochart (a chart dental professionals use for organizing information about their gums), and exams.   

“All those things tell us what exactly the patient needs,” Tilar explains. “Every patient we see is so different, and each has an individualized treatment plan. No patient I see is the same as another.”  

Tilar sees patients every 3 to 6 months, depending on the patient’s needs. She also provides oral hygiene education.   

“Overall, my main goal as a hygienist is to help my patients maintain a healthy smile,” she says.   

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