Maria Tigner (DDH’92): Open wide
By Mark Campbell; photo above by Colin Rowe
It has not been easy for Maria Tigner (DDH’92) to advocate for enhanced dental care in Mexico. Most people only go to see a dentist when there is a problem, and the majority of dentists tend to work without the support of a dental hygienist.
But perhaps the biggest challenge Tigner faces is that she lives thousands of miles away in Ontario.
“I was looking for an opportunity to reconnect with Mexico,” says the Dalhousie Dental Hygiene program alumna. “I was raised there. I have family there. I thought if I reach out to my alma mater and other universities to do some presentations on the impact of preventive dental care, I could travel back from time to time. That’s how it all started.”
Spreading awareness of preventive dental care
Distances may limit Tigner, who is a professor of dental hygiene and dental assisting at Algonquin College, in terms of what she is able to do. But every chance she gets, she goes home to help make a difference. Tigner has shared protocols for treating children with disabilities with the Children’s Hospital Federico Gomez and the Centro de Rehabilitación Infantil Teletón (CRIT) in Mexico City. She has volunteered at orphanages, daycare facilities and hospitals, providing care to hundreds who otherwise might not have access to dental hygiene services. And she has delivered presentations to dentistry and dental hygiene students and professors, and to practicing dentists, on the importance of preventive dental care, and how hygienists can play a vital role in advancing oral and overall health.
“The reason most people only go to a dentist when there is a problem is partly due to a lack of public education on preventive dental care,” says Tigner, who also worked in private and restorative practice, and at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. “In the absence of hygienists on the dental team, preventive care is typically not carried out with the same degree of persistence and determination. By promoting the role of dental hygienists in the profession, I hope to change that.”
Relocating to Canada, attending Dal
Like many of her colleagues in Mexico, Tigner practiced independently after receiving her DDS from the University of Mexico (UNAM). It was only after relocating to Canada with her Canadian husband in 1983 that she began to appreciate the role dental hygienists play in patient health. After completing several National Dental Examining Board examinations to be certified as a dentist in Canada, the system changed, making it mandatory to enroll in a dental accreditation university program. Realizing it was cost prohibitive, Tigner found a more practical opportunity to reenter the field in Dalhousie’s Dental Hygiene program.
“I had great professors,” Tigner says. “Through their instruction and my experiences, I fell in love with the profession to the point where I could see the possibilities it offered me and Mexico. Dalhousie opened the door for me to do different things and to give back. It transformed my life.”
Drawing on her own Dalhousie experience, Tigner is now transforming lives in Mexico through her advocacy and volunteer efforts. It is a slow process; many dentists still treat patients unassisted and only three universities currently offer dental hygiene programs, meaning limited access and awareness. These programs, which have only existed since 2013, are further hampered by a lack of vital resources, which Tigner is trying to address.
“I am looking into translating dental hygiene textbooks to Spanish,” Tigner explains. “The universities in Mexico currently do not have any because there are not enough programs being offered and not enough people enrolled in them. If I can provide those resources, and translations of professional documents from the College of Dental Hygienists of Ontario, it will go a long way toward helping dental hygiene students and other professionals provide better care for their patients.”
A volunteer’s retirement
There are many other initiatives and plans that Tigner is pursuing to enhance dental care and education in Mexico. She is in discussions to develop exchange and collaboration programs between Algonquin College and Cuauhtemoc University in Queretaro, Qro, Mexico. She is also helping to bring dental hygiene students to Canada to further their studies, and to train professors currently teaching the course in Mexico. It hardly seems she could do more, but with retirement on the horizon, Tigner is making plans to spend more time advocating and volunteering in Mexico.
“I already have a place in San Miguel de Allende where I will be part of a very active community of volunteers,” Tigner says. “I’d like to start a dental assisting course, which is currently very limited and undersized there—nothing like what we have in Canada. I want to deliver more lectures at the universities and raise awareness of the importance of preventive dental care so we can better protect people. And I want to continue making good use of my dental license in Mexico by doing restorative work for children. It will be a wonderful way to retire!”