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Real History: MTC’s Dental Hygiene Program is the oldest in the state

Picture of Mary Hook and Dr. Rhames

When Mary Hook first started working as a dental hygienist, developing x-rays was about as labor intensive as developing film for a major motion picture.

Hook would dip one side of the x-ray into a liquid, then she fished it out of a tray and dipped the other side in. “You had to stay in the room while it was developing,” Hook says.

The 79-year-old remembers the free electric toothbrush Oral-B sent her when that modern invention came onto the market and that she met some of the best friends of her life at work.  Hook says these great memories were made possible because she enrolled in MTC’s Dental Hygiene Program when it first started in 1966. The program is the oldest in the state.

“I had no idea that I’d end up in dental hygiene or dentistry at all, but I feel like the Lord guided me in those ways because it sure was a good career for me!” Hook says.

Hook was one of  96 people who recently attended the 50th Dental Hygiene Reunion on the Midlands Technical College Airport Campus.

“It was a beautiful event,” Hook said of the reunion. “Someone really worked hard to put it together,” she said.

While Hook was the only student from the original dental hygiene class present at the reunion, she enjoyed mingling with students representing an impressive timespan, and she was overjoyed to meet MTC President Dr. Ronald Rhames. “He’s such a nice man. He’s someone that you feel like you can really talk to,” Hook said.

When Hook first enrolled in hygiene school, it was called the Richland Technical Education Center and it was located on Beltline Boulevard. In 1974, it became Midlands Technical College.

At the age of 27, Hook was one of the oldest students enrolled in the first dental hygiene class. She says some of the students would tease her saying, “Here comes Hook, she’s pushing 30!”

Hook was excited to attend the MTC reunion, see her former classmates, and say,  “Hook is pushing 80 now!” 

Over the years, she has witnessed a lot of changes in the field of dentistry, but she says two key pillars of the MTC program have remained consistent. Hook says her instructors were very dedicated to their students, just like they are today.  And Hook says since the day that she first walked through the door, the MTC dental hygiene program has offered a clinic. 

“Most of our patients were relatives of the students.”  Hook says getting hands-on experience is one of the things that makes MTC’s program great.

“A lot of students who attend MTC’s program today don’t realize that we have a clinic,” said Lee Muthig, the Director of MTC’s Allied Dental Education Program. “While the clinic is not free, it does offer dental work at a greatly reduced cost.” 

The Midlands Technical College Dental Hygiene Program is now housed in the Academic Center on the Airport Campus, and it continues to be a huge success. This year, 100 percent of the dental hygiene program graduates passed their Dental Hygiene National Board Exams and clinical boards.

“We wouldn’t be where we are today without that first graduating class to push and grow the profession,” Muthig says.

Hook says her great niece went through MTC’s Dental Hygiene Program in 2004. “The way she talked, I don’t think I could have passed it today. It might have been a good thing that I was in the first class!”

After more than 40 years in the field, Hook retired from dentistry in 2004.

“As much as I loved dentistry, it took me about five minutes to adjust to retirement,” Hook laughs.

“Now, I don’t know when I had time to work!”

Hook is proud of her education and her profession, and she says she feels fulfilled by her career choice.

“As a dental hygienist, you feel like you are in a field that is doing some good for the world and you are helping people. I appreciate MTC for giving me that opportunity.”

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