Sisters follow mom’s footsteps into Tri-C Dental Hygiene program
October 10, 2017
Anna and Grace Macerelli came to Cuyahoga Community College’s Dental Hygiene program with more than a little background in the field. Their mother, Carol, is a practicing dental hygienist in Solon who graduated from Tri-C’s program in 1991.
“We’re here because our mom went here,” Anna said. “She’s the main reason we both decided to become dental hygienists.”
On a basic level, dental hygienists still clean teeth, much as they did when Anna and Grace’s mom attended class at Tri-C. But don’t take that at face value – the job is much different than it was nearly 30 years ago. As such, the education Anna and Grace are receiving is quite different from the education their mother received.
Modern dental hygienists must have a much more detailed understanding of oral diseases, infection control and how oral health impacts total-body health.
“Our mom started out before gloves were mandatory,” Grace said. “She began working at a time when masks weren’t in common use, before hygienists were really educated about total-body health. Now, it’s all different.”
Anna, 22, and Grace, 24, have always had a passion for helping people improve their appearance and health. The sisters were initially drawn to cosmetology as a career path. But even after vocational training in cosmetology during their junior and senior years of high school, they always had their sights set on a college education.
Anna, who graduated from Independence High School in 2013, had decided to pursue a dental hygiene degree at Tri-C and eventually persuaded Grace—a 2011 Independence High School graduate—to enter the program along with her.
“Grace had already started taking her (general education) classes at college and was undecided on a major. That’s when I enrolled and talked her into going into the program with me,” Anna said.
In the Dental Hygiene program, their passion for helping people has been put to the test. With a mountain of material to cover in just two years, the program challenges students with a rigorous course of study. Students must take layers of prerequisites that include psychology, biological chemistry, anatomy and physiology.
Once in the program, students must master a wide range of skills, including oral cancer screening, film and digital X-ray processing and behavioral monitoring of patients.
“You learn all of the clinical skills, but you also learn how to read patients,” Grace said. “You watch the way they’re walking and talking, whether their skin is flush or pale, their facial expressions. You learn to never take a patient’s word for it—you always watch their physical signs.”
In addition to the care administered directly to the patient, students must maintain great organizational skills and develop the ability to collaborate effectively with other hygienists, office staff and dentists.
“Your paperwork has to be 100 percent on point—correct names, dates and proper spelling,” Anna said. “And you have to be willing and able to go to the instructors for a professional opinion when you’re not sure about something.
“None of us hesitate to do that—our instructors are amazing. They’re uncanny about predicting things with patients. They’re so knowledgeable, and they just love teaching. They’re what makes our program really special to be a part of.”
Anna and Grace are both on track to graduate next May. Though they have taken similar paths to their degrees, each sister envisions a far different career path from her sibling.
After graduating from Tri-C, Anna plans to enroll at Cleveland State University to pursue a bachelor’s degree in health science, with the ultimate goal of becoming a dental hygiene teacher.
Grace, on the other hand, wants to become a prison dental hygienist.
“Prison inmates often haven’t had access to good dental services throughout their lives,” she said. “It’s a group in need of a lot of help as far as oral health and preventing oral diseases.”
But no matter where their careers take them, Anna and Grace will remember the lessons taught to them by their Tri-C teachers—and by their mother.
“Our mom told us to be professional,” Anna said. “Learn as much as you can so you can do the best job with patients. And treat your patients and coworkers with respect.”
“Everything our mom has taught us and everything we’ve learned so far at Tri-C kind of boils down to one thing, and that’s to take care of patients,” Grace said. “Give them your best work each day. I think that’s how you succeed in this field.”