2022 Outstanding Dental Hygienist Winners

In honor of Dental Hygiene Month, we’re highlighting the essential role dental hygienists play in the health of children. We asked for examples of dental hygienists who go above and beyond to help underprivileged kids in their communities and received many wonderful submissions! We chose five who stand out to receive prize packages that include a Waterpik Aquarius® water flosser, a certificate of recognition, a Smile Guardian education resource kit for community outreach, and other fun America’s ToothFairy swag.


Amber Lovatos, RDH, BSDH

Nominated by An Chih Do, RDH, MEd, MAADH 

Amber Lovatos, RDH, BSDH

Ms. Lovatos has been compassionately blazing trails personally and professionally for more than ten years. As a clinician, educator, author, and champion for public health issues, she inspires industry colleagues with unique stories that include triumph over abuse and discovering her identity as "The Latina RDH."

Celebrated as her family's first college graduate, she holds a bachelor's degree in dental hygiene from The University of Texas School of Dentistry, where she also now serves as an adjunct professor. Along with teaching, she worked as the Director of Dental Administration for TOMAGWA Healthcare Ministries, a non-profit medical/dental clinic in Tomball, TX.

Amber has dedicated her dental hygiene career to caring for the underserved. Over the years she has:

  • organized over 40 community outreach events in and around the Houston area. 
  • organized yearly free sealant events in partnership with local non-profits. 
  • organized oral cancer screenings at Catholic Charities Food Fairs. 
  • volunteered with Special Smiles
  • served on the planning committee for the Texas Mission of Mercy-Houston and dental care days with the Hispanic Dental Society
  • recruited volunteers for Veterans Smile Day.

This past year she has focused on bringing care to the people of Waller, Texas. Waller is an HRSA designated Medically Underserved Area (MUA) for dental care. Through a grant awarded to her through the American Dental Hygienists' Association, she has provided preventative dental hygiene services to low-income and uninsured individuals in rural Texas. Ms. Lovatos purchased portable dental equipment to bring care to people in their community.

She also provides free screenings, fluoride, and sealants for children in title one schools in Waller, Montgomery, and Tomball ISD.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, she was organizing one outreach event a month. With the pandemic in full force, Ms. Lovatos was unable to organize traditional outreach events. Instead, she partnered with another public health dental hygienist, Maxine Cordova, to author a children's dental book in Spanglish/Spanish. Smiles Por Vida is a not-for-profit book. The profits from the book are used to help fund their outreach initiatives. Ms. Lovatos also provides books to the students at the title-one schools.

She has also been significantly involved in legislative efforts affecting access to dental care. Over the past three years she has: 

  • lobbied for teledentistry in Texas.
  • testified in both the Texas House and Senate.
  • met with legislators to advocate for the people of Texas.

Amber is a co-founder of Dental Hygiene Spark, LLC, a social media platform dedicated to empowering dental hygienists. Most recently, she has formed the non-profit Latin RDH that focuses on providing grants to people interested in caring for the Latino community. Her non-profit also offers professional development and mentorship to Latinos in dentistry.

Amber is also significantly involved in the American Dental Hygienists' Association (ADHA). Currently, she serves on the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Access (IDEA) committee for the ADHA. Amber has served on all levels of the ADHA tripartite, serving as president of the Greater Houston Dental Hygienists' Association and Texas Dental Hygienists' Associations Membership Director.

Amber is also a national speaker and advocates for victims of abuse. She speaks on topics related to her life experiences. As a survivor of abuse, her mission is to educate dental professionals to identify abuse signs and prevent human trafficking. She also educates dental professionals on how to organize outreach events.

Amber continually strives to advance and promote the dental hygiene profession. More than that, she considers the care of others before herself. Her distinctive feature to eagerly transfer her knowledge and skills with her peers and community displays qualities of a leader with the ability to inspire others.

Lydia Palmer, RDH

Rogers, AR

Lydia Palmer, RDH

Lydia has been a dental hygienist for 39 years. She finds it very rewarding to help the undeserved in her community, and has spoken to school children for years. For the past six years, Lydia adopted the first graders at a local, low-income elementary school. The first year she visited, a little girl sent her a thank you note saying that she did not have a toothbrush. After that experience, she returned back each year and has helped thousands of children. 

She has also helped immigrant children in two local middle schools by providing them with toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss. Many of them are very thankful and did not know how to take care of their teeth. 

This summer Lydia helped the Teen Action support center with their back to school drive by providing dental hygiene supplies. The event attracted over 500 students. 

Lydia also served as president of a local organization that provides free braces for teens that could not afford braces to help them get a smile they deserved.  

Lydia says she volunteers in these ways because, “Children and teens are our future. It is important for them to have what they need to take care of their teeth. A confident smile will help them succeed in life.”

Rebecca Mauldin, RDH

Nominated by Dr. Sharon Harrell

Rebecca Mauldin, RDH, has been with FirstHealth Dental Care, a safety-net dental clinic in Southern Pines, NC since the clinic opened almost 25 years ago. Reba, as she is known by her colleagues, always goes over and beyond the call of duty for each and every patient.

Rebecca Mauldin, RDH reviews healthy dental hygiene habits with her patient at FirstHealth Dental Care in Southern Pines, North Carolina.

Her patients—especially her teenage patients—bond with her and confide in her. She helps them with their oral health needs as well as their mental and social needs. Here are few of the examples Dr. Harrell provided:

  • One of her young patients was considering suicide, so she contacted the mental health professionals at the patient's high school.
  • Another patient was being evicted from her home due to the death of her parents, so Reba obtained resources and legal counsel to help her patient stay in her home and provided temporary housing with a neighbor beforehand.
  • When one of her patients needed to see a specialist but their father was anxious about finding the location, Reba allowed the father to follow her in his car to the specialist's office to ensure they made the appointment.

Reba lives by Theodore Roosevelt's quote: "Far and away, the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing." 

Jessie Ludden, LDH

Nominated by Mandi Gadient, Office Manager, CARE Clinic, Redwing, MN

Jessie Ludden, LDH

More than six years ago, Jessie Ludden joined the CARE Clinic dental volunteer roster as an in-training dental assistant in preparation for her admittance to dental hygiene school that fall. She immediately proved herself to be dedicated, bright, a quick study and an inspiration because of her positive can-do attitude. At that time, the safety-net dental clinic was only open one evening a week for dental emergencies. As Jessie progressed in her education, she continued to volunteer there, often filling in at the last minute when other volunteers cancelled. 

She soon began to feel the frustration that, under their limited dental model, there was no option for preventative or restorative care. Her graduation and certification coincided with a change in that model, transitioning to a four-days-a-week clinic, and accepting nominal payment or state insurances for preventative and restorative care.

The core staff at CARE Clinic included Jessie as hygienist and an advanced dental therapist. Jessie could have found employment that is much more lucrative in her chosen field but she opted to work with this nonprofit dental care provider because of her commitment to dental health equity. 

In her nomination submition, Mandi told us, “We could not have made this transition without Jessie’s determination and loyalty. On many days in a sometimes hectic work place, Jessie was the peacemaker and positive influence that helped to keep things running smoothly. She provided continuity as we made the changes during a time when it felt like we were always trying to hit a moving target.”

During this transition, she continued to lobby for an emphasis on meeting the dental needs of all children and reaching out to them in their school environment. She is the linchpin for their school outreach program, and believes that dental health is a life-long process and must begin as early as possible. She understands the financial and time constraint struggles of many parents and works always to ease those challenges for the benefit of children.

Melony Harmon, RDH

Nominated by Glenda Bell, Program Director, Dental Health Arlington

Despite having been in the profession for 30 years, Melony has kept her passion for being a great pediatric hygienist and a tremendous advocate for underserved children. She has been an integral part of the Dental Health Arlington's SMILES team for over 8 years, providing much needed oral hygiene instruction, sealants, fluoride varnish, and toothbrushes to elementary school children in underserved communities in Arlington, Texas. Melony plays an essential role in creating and presenting their oral hygiene curriculum to students.

Older students have recently been added to the SMILES program as a pilot test, and Melony has been developing new ways to incorporate smokeless tobacco, e-cigarette usage, oral piercings, and orthodontic hygiene to the presentations.

Melony Harmon, RDH prepares lunch during a service event at a local elementary school in Arlington, Texas.

In addition, Melony volunteers at numerous other events throughout the year such as Give Kids A Smile and public health fairs by offering her services as a hygienist or any other job that might be needed at the events.

During the pandemic, she made oral hygiene videos for the Dental Health Arlington website which were also made available as a link on Arlington ISD's platform to continue educating children on the importance of oral hygiene since the SMILES team was not able to visit the schools in person.

In her nomination submission, Glenda said, “Despite our busy schedule, Melony takes the time to make each child feel special and unafraid of future trips to the dentist. Her patience and compassion for the children who are unsure about letting the team place sealants on their teeth is unparalleled. She can gently coax a child into letting her complete the procedure and make a lifelong friend in the process. Melony's love for her profession and her desire to provide much needed preventive dental services in a compassionate manner is the reason she deserves to be recognized.”

Congratulations to our winners, and thank you to everyone who submitted nominations!

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