Convocation Spotlight - Alanna Blanchette, '21 BSc DH

Convocation Spotlight - Alanna Blanchette, '21 BSc DH

Tarwinder Rai - 24 June 2021

Alanna Blanchette (DH '21) has reached 650 elementary students in the Edmonton area as part of the SMILES program this year alone. She delivered thousands of tubes of toothpaste to non-profit organizations like the Campus Food Bank, Boyle Street, Bissell Centre and the Edmonton Food Bank. Her team “Team 4 Fighters” raised $21,000 alone for the Ovarian Cancer Walk of Hope, and team “Freezin’ for a Reason” raised $8,500 for The Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser.

Her involvement shows her commitment and dedication to health care. Blanchette is graduating with her dental hygiene degree in June and she will be working at a dental office in Edmonton. But, before Blanchette says her final goodbye, here is what she holds close to her heart.

Why did you choose dental hygiene as a profession?

My mom always said that when I was a young kid, I would cry when it was one of my siblings’ turn to go to the dentist but not mine. Most kids cry when they do have to go to the dentist; I cried when I didn’t have to go. So, I guess you could say I started on the path towards dental hygiene at a young age. Here is a photo of me playing “dentist” on Elmo when I was 4 years old. As I grew up, I knew that I wanted to be part of a profession that helped people. After considering several health professions, I decided that the dental field was where I was called to be. I was interested in hygiene because of the focus on patient-centred preventative care. Now that I have completed my program, I truly feel that this is the career for me. 

How did you balance the demands of your program and finding the time to help out in all these causes?

As much as we all want to be the best student possible, our lives cannot be dedicated solely to school. I think it is really important to set aside time for things besides schoolwork. It is a lot easier to find the time to volunteer when you are doing something that you enjoy. I found room in my schedule to get involved in programs and initiatives that were meaningful to me. I encourage every student to be involved in a cause they are passionate about. With a little effort and time management we can all find an opportunity to help out!  

Why do you feel it is important to give back and be involved?

I think that you get out of this world what you put into it. If you put kindness into the world, then kindness is what you will see in the world. If we all take a little time to make the world better for others, we all benefit!

What do you like the most about presenting at schools?

Preventative care is such a huge part of the dental hygiene role. And what better way to implement preventative care than by helping young kids start off on the right path with their oral health? That is the best part of SMILE presentations - watching kids become excited to learn about caring for their teeth. 

Seeing them understand how brushing/flossing, dental visits and nutrition all play a part in keeping their smiles healthy. Hearing all of their great questions...even the ones I don’t know how to answer. The most memorable question I got this year was “ How many teeth does a komodo dragon have?” (If you’re curious, the answer is 60...I looked it up afterwards). 

I love knowing that every student learned at least one new thing during our time together and that each one of them will have a toothbrush to take home. Plus, we always finish off with something fun like Tooth Bingo or Jeopardy - so if they don’t remember much of the presentation, at least they had fun!

Are there any experiences that particularly stand out with you that made you think/say, "yes, this is why I got into this profession?"

During SMILE presentations, the students often like to share all kinds of stories. More often than not, several students in a class will share that they have “black holes in their teeth '' or “had to have their teeth pulled out by the dentist”. These moments demonstrate the HUGE need for better access to oral care at a young age. These are the moments that reassure my decision to be a hygienist. 

What are your future plans?

After graduation I am excited to begin working at a great dental office in Edmonton! I would love to stay involved in oral health education programs in the city. In future years I would like to return home (Falher, AB) and offer dental hygiene care in my rural community. Once I have more experience in the field, I would also really like to be involved in advocacy initiatives for equal access to dental care for all Canadians. And who knows, maybe I’ll complete my Master’s and/or return to the UofA as an educator some day!

What advice do you have for students coming into the program?

Make the best of every moment! It may be difficult to appreciate endless hours in the SIM lab or studying for exams, but always take the time to appreciate your university experience. Spend time with your hygiene peers (even if it’s over Zoom for now), get involved in extracurriculars, and attend as many events as you can. When you come into the program it can feel very overwhelming with many responsibilities. In my first year, I remember feeling like all I had time for was school work, nothing else. I quickly learned that wasn’t realistic. You can’t pour from an empty cup, so take care of yourself so that you have energy and care to dedicate to all aspects of your life. Stop and smell the roses every now and then because before you know it, your university experience will be complete!