Proud Faculty Member, Alumnus Blaze Trail in Dental Hygiene

Michael Thibou and Lamont Walker in MATC Dental Hygiene Clinic photo

Michael Thibou (left) and LaMont Walker (right) with a student in MATC's Dental Hygiene Clinic at the Downtown Milwaukee Campus

Too many men brush off dental hygiene as a career option, and people of color remain underrepresented in the field. According to the 2016 U.S. Census Bureau report, more than 90 percent of the country’s dental hygienists are women, and about 14 percent of U.S. hygienists are people of color.

Michael Thibou, who completed MATC’s Dental Hygiene associate degree program in May 2018, said he wasn’t aware of these statistics when he enrolled. After working at a hospital lab for 11 years, his focus was on switching to a career that offered a strong future. LaMont Walker, an instructor for MATC’s Dental Hygiene program, said Thibou is the college’s first African-American male Dental Hygiene graduate.

The occupation appealed to Thibou because it is rewarding and in demand. In addition to teeth cleanings, a hygienist’s duties typically include checking for signs of oral diseases and educating patients about good oral health. Employment of dental hygienists is projected to increase nearly 20 percent by 2026, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Technology continues to evolve for this field and MATC’s dental clinic on the Downtown Milwaukee Campus features state-of-the-art equipment.

“MATC prepared me well for this career,” said Thibou, who began working at ForwardDental in Milwaukee after graduation. “You receive instruction in the newest technologies. You also learn how to put patients at ease and advise them. You can see how you help your patients make changes that improve their oral health.”

LaMont Walker, an instructor for MATC’s Dental Hygiene program, said Thibou is the college’s first African-American male Dental Hygiene graduate.

Increasing diversity

Diversity in the oral-health workforce plays a critical role in improved access to care for people of color, and MATC is an integral partner in this effort.

“I’m passionate about increasing the diversity for this profession,” said MATC’s Walker, who also works part time as a dental hygienist. When he earned his bachelor’s degree from Marquette University’s dental hygiene program in 1988, Walker was the first African-American male dental hygienist in Wisconsin.

To foster greater awareness of the career, MATC Dental Hygiene students participate in outreach programs in the community, and on-campus events for high school students include tours of the dental program facilities. Recruiting efforts and community service have helped the college increase the numbers of Asian-American, Hispanic, African-American and male students in its dental programs to be slightly better than the national averages, and MATC will continue working to increase diversity, Walker noted.

Thibou agrees that more men and people of color should enter the field. “The opportunities are growing,” he said. “It’s a great career that helps others improve their health.”