By Rebecca Rakoczy
Photo by Bill Roa
Dunwoody, Ga.--Lauryn Wardlaw always knew she wanted a career in the medical field and wanted to help people but wasn’t quite sure what area she was interested in when she graduated from North Cobb High School.
Amber Armstrong had worked for years as a pharmacy technician but knew she wanted to switch careers.
Both found their passion by pursuing a dental hygiene career.
On May 4, Armstrong and Wardlaw will be among the 25 students graduating from Perimeter College’s Dental Hygiene program. The class recently received 100 percent pass rate on their clinical National Board Dental Exam, preparing them to go into the workforce. Perimeter’s dental hygiene students will celebrate with a traditional pinning ceremony at 10 a.m. Wednesday, May 4 on the Dunwoody Campus, prior to the commencement ceremony at Center Parc Stadium in Atlanta.
The daughter of a high school graphic arts teacher and a corporate businesswoman, Wardlaw didn’t have a dental hygienist in the family, but she wanted to try it.
She knew the profession was right for her when she learned how oral health affects how the body functions. “I learned about teeth, not only how to clean teeth—but learning how important oral health is and how it really affects your heart, your bones—and your self-esteem, I knew I was interested,” she said.
For Armstrong, studying dental hygiene renewed an interest that began as a child. “I have always found dentistry interesting, as a kid I always loved going to a dentist,” she said. “I wanted to be that for people and change the way people see dentistry is connected to your overall health oral health. I wanted to be the reason going to the dentist is rewarding, instead of scary.”
Both students describe Perimeter’s program as rigorous but rewarding, requiring time management and discipline.
Armstrong juggled her job as a pharmacy tech with her family responsibilities as a mother of a 9-year-old, as well as helping aide her fiancé, who is disabled with Multiple Sclerosis. That was a learning curve, she said. “In the beginning I was working four days a week and going to school. I realized I couldn’t do that with lectures and clinics, and now I just work weekends,” she said.
Teaching patients how to improve their overall oral health is one of the more rewarding aspects of dental hygiene, said Wardlaw. “There was a patient who came into the dental hygiene clinic with periodontitis (gum disease), and I taught him about how vitamin deficiencies affect the immune system and advised him to eat more vegetables and drink milk. His gums looked a lot better on his second appointment,” she said.
During the program, Wardlaw practiced her skills on her parents and 14-year-old brother. “My family has been the ones that really supported me when I doubted myself and got me through the program,” she said.
The program is very rigorous, and it takes a lot of mental stamina,” said Wardlaw. “But I love what I do and want to continue to grow as a hygienist.”
For Armstrong, graduating from the two-year program will be exciting, but the friendships forged while a student will make it hard to leave the program, she said. “Our second-year clinic instructor has been our rock and helped us so much. I’m happy that I chose to go to Georgia State,” she said. “We’ve become a family here.”
She is looking forward to spending more time with her own family. “They all had the same goal in mind as me—we know it’s temporary and we’re all sacrificing right now so we can have more time in the future,” she said. “My daughter is excited and looking forward to us moving on to our next chapter in life,” she said.
Wardlaw is encouraged by her classmates that juggle both family and their studies. “I’m inspired by my classmates who have children and still come every day to clinic, and then go home and take care of their families,” said Wardlaw. “They have been an inspiration to me,” she said.