Dental hygiene alumna advises students to find their passion

2008 graduate featured by Bulletin Healthcare

Tiffany Summerlin, a 2008 graduate of the West Virginia University School of Dentistry dental hygiene program, is featured in the Hygienist Spotlight of Bulletin HealthCare’s newsletter, Hygienist Morning Minute. (The email update can be requested through on online subscription.)

Tiffany Summerlin
Tiffany Summerlin
Photo: MCHD

The Oregon native used the opportunity to show her Mountaineer pride and promote a profession that is currently reported to be in high demand. Dentistry Today indicates private practices are returning to pre-pandemic patient demand and are hiring to meet increased needs.

While the Marine veteran and her husband were raising their family in Morgantown, Summerlin chose to pursue her dream career.

Summerlin is a registered dental hygienist with the Monongalia County Health Department who coordinates mobile oral healthcare for children across the county who do not have a dental home.

Bulletin Healthcare asked, "What advice would you give someone entering the profession?

Her answer included:

  • Find you passion
  • Let curiosity be your guide
  • Invest in patients and your team
  • Volunteer
  • Make connections

Summerlin's interview is shown and transcribed below. 


Tiffany Summerlin, RDH, received her BSDH in 2008 from the West Virginia University School of Dentistry ("Go Mountaineers!"). She practices at MCHD Dentistry in Morgantown, West Virginia, and is the coordinator for Smile Express. Regarding how she and her family ended up in West Virginia, she writes, "I grew up on the southern coast of Oregon and met my husband while I was an active duty Marine (1993-1998) stationed in Iwakuni Japan. He is from West Virginia and we moved back here in 1998. After starting our family (son Nick who is now 21 and daughter Logan who is now 19) I took the opportunity to pursue my dental hygiene dreams. Dental hygiene school with two young children was a team effort and my husband played quarterback and defensive tackle like a Superbowl champ!" Their "two-legged children flew the coop," but they have a 10-year-old Golden Retriever named Emmie and a 16-year-old cat named Major.

What do you like best about your job?
I love the variety of hats I get to wear in my position. From driving and maintaining the 38’ mobile unit, facilitating relationships with schools, and especially providing dental care and education to our recipients. We only see students who do not have a dental home and every day my heart and my body go through an Olympic-worthy gymnastic routine!

What advice would you give someone entering the profession?
Find your passion! The dental hygiene profession is full of those who are happy to stay on the well-worn path. If you are like me and that is not you, keep pushing your boundaries and let curiosity be your guide to happiness in your job. Invest in your patients and teammates, it always pays dividends and keeps your tank full. Volunteer when you can to expose yourself to new people, ideas and experiences. You never know when and where those connections can benefit you in the future.

Any advice for your previous boss?
My previous position was with the Center for Oral Health Research in Appalachia (COHRA) and I was an Oral Data Collector. My former boss is a psychologist who had an amazing ability to open my mind to see the patient with humility, curiosity and empathy. The only advice to him would be to keep inspiring dental providers to treat patients with their heart, not just hands.

What inspires you?
I am inspired when I teach something to someone that transforms their life in some way, small or large. Something we can all relate to-That 6mrc that adopted your OHI who no longer has gingivitis and heavy BOP. There are many opportunities in life to spread the wealth of knowledge, just speak up and share from your heart.

What was the last gift you gave someone?
I just sent my sister an IKEA gift card for her birthday. Her daughter moved out recently and my sister is creating a new creative space for music, teaching and art. Happy to help her build a space where she can become her best self!