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Grad profile: Angel Gill

Posted by Jane Doucet on June 12, 2023 in News
(Photos: Bruce Bottomley)

Angel Gill (DDH’23) was 16 when she had braces put on her teeth in her hometown of Brantford, ON, and 18 when they came off. After visiting the orthodontist, she told her mother that she could see herself working in an office like that. "It was a fast-paced environment, but everyone was so friendly," she says. "Before then, a career as a dental professional was an option I didn’t know I had."

In 2020, Gill earned an BSc with honours in biology from McMaster University, then moved home with her parents and took a gap year from school during the pandemic. After a while, her parents started encouraging her to figure out her next step. "I knew I didn’t want to work in a lab or teach," she says. "Health care was interesting, and while I was exploring different professions, I found dental hygiene."

The focus dental hygiene places on preventive care appealed to Gill. And, as a social person, she liked that she would be building relationships with her patients over time. She applied to Dal because it was well-respected program, and she thought it would be a good experience to live outside Ontario for a while.

Well supported through her studies
Unlike many first-year dental hygiene students, Gill wasn’t overwhelmed by the intense course load. "My undergrad was pretty demanding, too, so that prepared me," she says. "It was tough at times when I had overlapping tests and assignments, but there is lots of faculty support. Our faculty is amazing – I’ve never felt so supported in my entire life!"

To help relieve stress, Gill worked on art projects, drawing, and graphic design when she had time. She also hung out with friends from her program. "We have different personalities but similar world views and morals, and we’re very close," she says. The classmates had picnics, went on drives to explore Nova Scotia, and arranged fun outings like to an escape room in Halifax.

Working in the Dalhousie Dental Clinic with supervising professor Dr. Alma Wade was Gill’s favourite part of the program. Even though she knew she wouldn’t be there for long, she enjoyed getting to know the patients she saw more than once. "It’s always a new experience with each patient, and I like the bond that develops between the patient and hygienist," she says.

Making all patients comfortable
That bond often helps during challenging patient visits at the clinic. When Gill told a woman in her late 40s that she had to give her a needle, the patient explained that the last time she’d had one, she’d experience a panic attack. In fact, that visit was her first time in a dental office in 15 years. Instead of the needle, Gill applied a topical numbing solution.

"We don’t want to traumatize anyone," she says. "It was nice to be able to explain to her every step along the way to make her feel more comfortable and calmer."

At the clinic, Gill enjoyed the variety of people she treated. "I got to talk to people I wouldn’t meet otherwise," she says. "Most of our patients were in their 60s and older, and I loved listening to them talk about their lives."

Gill also enjoyed treating children at Harbour View Elementary School in Dartmouth. "Kids are so precious, interesting, and opinionated," she says. "I loved building trust with them and teaching them about oral health. Some were nervous, and we had to bribe them with stickers and toys. Others were so calm, just perfect patients."

Love what you do
Throughout the program, Gill learned how to care not only for patients but also for herself – in particular, when it comes to her posture. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common injury that causes numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and forearm. Back strain can also be an issue. "It’s taxing on your body to sit in a chair all day doing repetitive motions," she says. "Our instructors reminded us to keep our back straight and our fingers stable, and to rotate our wrists."

After her dental school exams and board exams, Gill will return to Brantford and move back in with her parents. This summer, she’s looking forward to enjoying some time with friends and family. Then, after she gets her licence to practise as a dental hygienist, she’ll begin looking for a job.

Although she didn’t do this herself, Gill advises anyone thinking about a career in dental hygiene to shadow a hygienist before applying to a program. "You should learn everything they do, because you have to really enjoy the work in order to have a long career in this profession," she says.

Orthodontics still appeals to Gill, but likely in the long term. "I’m so new in the profession that I think working in a general practice for a while will help improve my instrumenting skills," she says. "Dental hygienists are in high demand, and I’m looking forward to finding out what this profession holds for me in the future."