UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry welcomed 30 students from the Dental Hygiene Class of 2024 to the dental profession during a special white coat ceremony Aug. 12 in the Denton A. Cooley, MD and Ralph C. Cooley, DDS University Life Center.
Dean John A. Valenza, DDS, welcomed family, friends, and guests as part of his opening remarks. He also recognized two alumnae of the Dental Hygiene Program unable to be in attendance, Margo Y. Melchor, RDH, EdD, associate professor and director of community outreach at the School of Dentistry; and Lorie L. Jones, RDH, BSDH, president of The University of Texas at Houston Dental Hygiene Alumni Association.
“I make note of them because I was with them this morning virtually, as they are members of the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners,” said Valenza. “Class, as we were talking about life after dental school, and for most of you that will be practicing dental hygiene, we talked about other opportunities that you may have in industry, education, or otherwise, and I thought by their absence today how significant my meeting this morning was with the state board and seeing those two of our significant alumnae there.”
Students were also reminded of the unique dental hygiene experience in front of them. Of the 26 dental hygiene programs in the state of Texas, UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry is home to one of only four dental hygiene programs in the state and the only one in the city of Houston to be based in a dental school.
“I love the white coat ceremony, because it’s that start to the journey that you’re about to embark upon,” said Professor Robert D. Spears, PhD, associate dean for student and academic affairs. “You’ve heard a lot over these last few days about the school, how the school is here for you, how we’re going to help you, but we’ve also mentioned how you have responsibilities as well. To yourself, to your school, to your patients, that white coat represents a really big commitment that you’ve put yourself into of taking care of your patients.”
Professor Nikola Angelov, DDS, PhD, chair of the Department of Periodontics and Dental Hygiene, praised the students on choosing dental hygiene, calling the profession the make-or-break factor for the success of any dental office.
“As a periodontist, I’m very well aware of the value a dental hygienist brings into anybody’s dental office,” Angelov said. “It takes a special kind of person to be a dental hygienist. It takes empathy to be sensitive to the fears or distress experienced by some who visit [a dental office]. It takes attention to detail. It takes manual dexterity to perform the procedures in diagnosis and treatment. It also takes stamina to spend hours leaning over many patients, and it takes strong interpersonal skills to relate and communicate with patients and co-workers.
“To put very frankly, dental hygienists are the silent heroes of dental care.”
Dental Hygiene Program Director Victoria Patrounova, RDH, MHA, recalled her indirect journey to dental hygiene as an immigrant from Russia in her keynote speech.
“My husband and I came to this country in 1993,” Patrounova said. “My dental degree from a different country was not accepted here, so I needed to start over. I studied dentistry and dental hygiene on two different continents, in two languages at two universities, and one community college. I was happy to be accepted here at [UTHealth Houston School of Dentistry].”
Patrounova also noted on the significance of the white coat ceremony.
“Let’s consider this ceremony as the passing on the keys,” she said. “We’re letting you into the professional world. We trust that you will become capable, ethical, empathetic preventative care specialists guided by the Dental Hygiene Oath, your moral compass, and your passion for improving oral health.”
Assistant Professor Raha Naderi, RDH, served as the master of ceremonies and led the class through the Dental Hygiene Oath. Associate Professor Tulsi Patel, RDH, BSDH, MHA, led the students in their processional. Patel and Assistant Professor Khairunisa Hashmani, RDH, EdD, served has coaters for the ceremony.
At the conclusion of the white coat ceremony, the dental hygiene students turned and faced the crowd to be congratulated on this milestone in their dental journey by family and friends in the audience or watching online.
The University of Texas at Houston Dental Hygiene Alumni Association and GlaxoSmithKline sponsored the white coat ceremony and reception. Additional support and participation were provided by the Dental Hygiene Class of 2023, the Student Chapter of the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, and the PACE Center.