Grad profile: From science educator to dental hygienist

Geoff Seto, Dentistry

- May 31, 2022

(Nick Pearce photos)
(Nick Pearce photos)

This article is part of a series focusing on the grads of the Dalhousie Class of 2022. Spring Convocation runs from May 24 to June 3 in Halifax and Truro. Read all our profiles here as they are published, and for more information visit the Convocation website.

As a child growing up in Halifax, Geoff Seto (DDH’22) didn’t visit the dentist very often — just for emergencies. His parents, who earned a modest living, had limited access to dental care while growing up so they never learned the importance of regular checkups. But a few years ago, his mother’s bout with cancer changed the family’s outlook on oral health.

At one point in her cancer journey, Geoff’s mother needed a liver transplant. Following surgery, the mix of anti-rejection medications she was taking caused her to develop oral thrush, a yeast infection on her tongue and throat that made swallowing extremely painful.

“Mom said it was excruciating and 100 times worse than surgery,” says Geoff. “That experience gave her a whole new perspective on oral health, and how it can greatly impact quality of life. And it opened my eyes to the importance of preventative dental care and hygiene.”

After earning a degree in microbiology from Dalhousie in 2010, Geoff knew he wanted to pursue some sort of health-care profession, but as an undergraduate he never considered dental hygiene. Undecided about further schooling, he spent 10 years working as a science interpreter at Halifax’s Discovery Centre, where he discovered that he loved working with kids, teaching science, and travelling around the province doing community outreach.

It’s no surprise, then, that when Geoff started the dental hygiene program as a mature student, he discovered that his favourite patients are children. “At Harbour View Elementary, we saw many kids with decayed teeth and cavities who may not fully understand the importance of brushing and going to the dentist,” he says. “I enjoy telling stories and jokes so they feel comfortable being in the dental chair.”

A prime example of a funny story that made the Discovery Centre kids hoot is this: when someone challenged him to eat a hamburger with 10 patties on it, he accepted — and succeeded! Although the order startled the server at Wendy’s, he got his hefty burger and ate it in one sitting.

“It was not enjoyable, but I did it,” says Geoff, chuckling. The nickname he earned — Ten Patty Fatty — stuck. “Every year after that, I’d meet brothers and sisters of summer-camp kids from the year before, and they’d call me Ten Patty Fatty.”

A new career path

Although Geoff enjoyed working at the Discovery Centre, he wanted to explore new opportunities. After the science centre was shut down at the start of the pandemic, he returned to university to pursue a new career path.

One of only two male students in his graduating class of 29, Geoff chose Dal for dental hygiene because it has a good reputation both at home and internationally. Initially, he was challenged by the volume of the course content — and by COVID-19’s shutdowns and the move to online learning.

Geoff’s comfort level with his peers and professors helped overcome any jitters. “What I enjoyed the most about my time here was getting to know my classmates and instructors,” he says. “We’ll likely stay in touch after we graduate.”

Geoff also enjoyed the program’s variety. In 2021, he worked as a summer research student on a project investigating how xerostomia (dry mouth) affects speech, chewing, swallowing and quality of life. He asked people to eat crackers, measured their salivary flow and collected spit samples for analysis. “It was a neat experience, for sure,” he says.

Although he found that project interesting, Geoff doesn’t see himself pursuing a career in research. Instead, he hopes one day to combine clinical practice with community outreach and teaching – ideally, somewhere in Halifax, where he’ll be close to home so he can care for his parents as they get older.

Looking forward to what comes next

For now, Geoff is focused on writing his board exam, looking at job prospects, and taking some time to reflect on his experience in dental hygiene school. “It’s a challenging program, but also very rewarding,” he says. “We have fantastic instructors who go above and beyond, providing encouragement and helping us get to where we are today.”

When Geoff earned his microbiology degree from Dal, he didn’t attend his convocation ceremony. “It didn’t seem that important to be there, it just felt like a piece of paper,” he says. “But I’m planning to go to this one, which will feel more personal because of our small class size. It’ll be nice to walk across the stage with my classmates and celebrate what we’ve achieved.”


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