Hear from Practitioners

My Not So Clear Cut Path To a Rewarding Dental Hygiene Career

Posted by Maryellen Tilly, RDH, B.A. on October 21, 2015

The value of education was instilled in me by my parents at a very young age. By high school I had established myself as a disciplined student who made good grades. As high school graduation approached in 1978, I started to think more seriously about my career choices. My father tried to guide me with a simple solution to narrow down the career options. He said, “Just choose any area of study in the sciences to ensure job marketability and financial independence.” 

I took him a bit too literally.

After taking an anthropology and archeology course my freshman year of college, I decided anthropology satisfied the “sciences” criteria my dad suggested. I graduated four years later with a major in anthropology (social sciences), with a minor in geology. 

I spent a short time as a high school science teacher before a friend’s husband encouraged me to apply for a position representing a pharmaceutical company. My science background was a door opener, and I suddenly found myself on the road for weeks at a time. I soon realized I did not enjoy being away so much, especially because my (then) fiancée also traveled for his career.

In 1992, my youngest brother, who is a dentist and very wise, recognized my dilemma and suggested I think about applying to a dental hygiene program. It sounded like a good option for me. It was a two-year program, I would be involved with the community and helping people, work a flexible schedule, and be home when my husband was in town. I had found what seemed like the perfect solution. 

Success! I started the program at Saint Petersburg College School of Dental Hygiene, and left orientation feeling excited to participate in a professional program with such a dedicated and bright group of individuals. I graduated in 1995, and worked in a family practice in the community as a clinical hygienist for seven years. In 2001, I had the opportunity to return to Saint Petersburg College as an adjunct faculty member. Teaching has been an incredible experience; it has allowed me to share my love of this great profession with so many others.

Throughout the years, my local dental hygiene association has been a great inspiration to me. Being involved has allowed me to tap into skills I did not know I had. I have been active in fundraising events for scholarships and community service for children’s preventive dental care. I also participated in a dental hygiene fellowship that allowed me the opportunity to mentor others. 

I have learned so many life skills from other hygienists over the years, and I am so thankful to have landed on a career path that has opened so many doors for me—both professionally and personally. 

About Maryellen Tilly, RDH, B.A.:

Maryellen Tilly Maryellen Tilly RDH, B.A., was raised in Dunedin, Florida. She is a graduate of Saint Petersburg College Dental Hygiene Program and the University of South Florida. Since 2001, she has been an adjunct faculty member at Saint Petersburg College. She teaches courses in Clinical Dental Hygiene, Oral Facial Anatomy and Dental Radiology. In 2006, she organized and implemented the Head Start Caries Intervention Program, serving over 1,500 children in Pinellas County. The state of Florida Head Start awarded the program “Best Oral Health Practices” in 2007. The program also received the Region IV “Award of Excellence for Promoting Oral Health” in 2008. In June of 2009, the American Dental Hygiene Association awarded the program the 2009 Colgate/ADHA Community Outreach Award.