Celebrating 100 years of women dental professionals


Elaine Tillingetilling

Where did you qualify? And what year?

I qualified as a Dental Nurse in 1978 and then as a Dental Hygienist at the Institute of Dental Health and Training RAF Halton, Buckinghamshire in 1982.


What attracted you to dentistry?

I was destined for one of the caring professions I guess as my grandfather worked for the Red Cross, my father was a Divisional Officer for the St Johns Ambulance and I was a St Johns Cadet for several years – I had no aspirations to work in Dentistry specifically, I joined the Royal Air Force, to upset my father who was in the Royal Navy. if I am honest! The trade of Dental Nurse sounded a good option at the time.


What are your current responsibilities in the profession?

In my paid job, I work for TePe Oral Hygiene Products Ltd, where I am the Clinical Education and Project Manager. I design and deliver a range of verifiable Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for TePe and act as the clinical expert for the professional and consumer markets. In my voluntary work, I sit on the Editorial Board for the BSDHT Dental Health and the Annual Clinical Journal, I am also on the panel of experts for NICE and a Fellow of the British Society of Dental Nurses.  


Elaine’s dental story

I quickly realised that the role of Dental hygienist was the one for me as I saw what a difference the time and care of a Dental Hygienist could do for a patient. Education empowers and dedicating time and effort to helping someone to improve their oral health is something that I still find hugely satisfying. I even find that satisfaction when on the phone to one of our customers who has a question or problem to do with their oral health.

I was a clinical hygienist serving at home and abroad for 15 years before achieving my ultimate goal of becoming the Officer Commanding Dental Hygienist Training for the three armed services. I served in the Royal Air Force for 25 years and I have incredibly fond memories of the dental teams and students that I had the honour work alongside and train.

My passion for empowerment and health led me to undertake an MSc in Health Promotion which helped me develop a smoking cessation protocol for service personnel. Sharing knowledge and ideas really inspires me and lecturing and presenting to my fellow dental professionals is something that never fails to keep my batteries fully charged! Dental Hygienists in particular, are quite isolated in their daily work and so getting together for CPD is something that this cadre did long before it became a compulsory part of our working lives. My time making presentations to the profession is something that I really do love.

I am working more and more with the dental nurse cadre now, developing training on behalf of TePe and also for the Deaneries. The nurses are really stepping up to the mark with CPD and these sessions have become a hugely enjoyable part of my working life. The future of the dental team with a mutual respect for the roles and skill sets of each member is getting closer I think.


What has been your most memorable achievement in the profession?

Receiving the Lean Memorial Award for services to Dentistry as I was the first woman and Dental Hygienist to receive this award which is traditionally given to Dentists in the Royal Air Force . If I may have two memorable moments, then being invited by Women in Dentistry to present my dissertation on smoking and oral health in Vancouver is also right up there with my proudest moments.


What advice would you give your younger self on qualifying?

Education and empowerment are the best tools to motivate patients, not simply telling them what to do! It took me a while to cotton on to that.


Which of your mentors have influenced you the most?

A lady called Freda Rimini (Squadron Leader retired) – she was my Senior Tutor as a dental hygienist and taught me that you place your own ceiling on your capacity to learn and achieve


How have you used mentoring throughout your career?

I consider myself extremely lucky to have been mentored by some of the most incredibly gifted people in dentistry, Graham Smart, Phil Ower and Ian MacIntyre, all dentists and all my commanding officers in the Air Force. I learnt from the best.

When you see potential in someone it’s really nice to be able to encourage them to see their way forwards. Everyone has potential, some people just don’t see that potential in themselves. Running workshops that share best practice in dentistry has been an effective way to mentor by stealth I guess… As I mentioned before, Dental Hygienists often work in isolation from the rest of the dental team and can often doubt their own skills and knowledge, so encouraging them to look at what they do know and do achieve every single day can help reassure and inspire them to keep on doing what they actually do best… care and motivate! I am a Girl Guide Leader and use the same philosophy in my Guiding.

Who We Are:

Dental Mentors UK is run by two experienced dental mentors.
We are:

We believe that all dental professionals would benefit from regularly working with a mentor from a personal as well as a professional point of view. Mentors are experienced dental professionals who can guide and support you throughout your career.

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