Reconnecting Practicing Hygienists with the Nation's Leading Educators and Researchers.

The Esther Wilkins Lifetime Achievement Award

Recognizing the distinguished careers of individuals who have consistently and effectively contributed to the enrichment of the dental hygiene profession.


Ann Eshenaur Spolarich, RDH, PhD, FSCDH

Past Winners

  • 2010 Esther M. Wilkins, BS, RDH, DMD
  • 2011 Maxine Alper Tishk, RDH, MS
  • 2012 Gail N. Cross-Poline, RDH, MS
  • 2013 Michele Leonardi Darby, BSDH, MS, and Margaret Walsh, RDH, MS, MA, EdD
  • 2014 Juanita S. Wallace, RDH, PhD
  • 2015 JoAnn R. Gurenlian, RDH, MS, PhD
  • 2016 Pamela R. Overman, RDH, MS, EdD
  • 2017 Olga A.C. Ibsen, RDH, MS, FAADH
  • 2018 Deborah Bailey Astroth, RDH, BSDH
  • 2019 Jacquelyn L. Fried, RDH, BA, MS
  • 2020/2021 Jane L. Forrest, BSDH, MS, EdD
  • 2022 Winnie Furnari, MS, RDH, FAADH, FAAFS, FADE

The profession of dental hygiene owes a debt of gratitude to Ann Eshenaur Spolarich, RDH, PhD, FSCDH, professor and assistant dean for research at the Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health, A.T. Still University (ATSU) in Mesa, Arizona. An internationally recognized author and speaker on pharmacology and the care of medically complex patients, she has presented more than 1,000 invited lectures and has over 125 professional publications.

Dr. Spolarich continues to teach part-time in the university’s Special Care Clinic, while also serving as faculty in the New York University Langone Advanced Education in General Dentistry Residency Program at ATSU. She was awarded fellowship status in special care dental hygiene from the Special Care Dentistry Association (SCDA) in 2016 and received the SCDA Education Award in 2021.

Well-known for her acumen in both laboratory and clinical research, Dr. Spolarich has completed the Mary Frances Picciano Dietary Supplement Research Practicum through the Office of Dietary Supplements at the National Institutes of Health. She has conducted re­search at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, University of Maryland Hospital, Philadelphia Veterans Ad­ministration Medical Center, and National Office of Veterans Affairs in Washington, DC. She also served as associate director of the National Center for Dental Hygiene Research & Practice — which hosted several meetings featuring dental and dental hygiene researchers from around the world — for more than a decade.

She completed dental hygiene school at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine right out of high school and finished her Bachelor of Science degree at Thomas Jefferson University (graduating summa cum laude). At Thomas Jefferson, she began working in hospital dental hygiene, which led to her lifelong dedication to treating patients with cancer and eventually evolved into a career in research.

Through her experiences, Dr. Spolarich developed a keen un­derstanding of how research informs clinical practice. After completing a Master of Science at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, she decided to pursue a doctoral degree in physiology, which built her skills as a scientist and helped to advance her knowledge of medicine, pathology, and pharmacology, improving her capabilites as both researcher and clinician.

After graduation, she worked full-time as a scientific consultant to private industry and as a national speaker. In 2005, she returned to academia as clinical associate professor in the Division of Dental Public Health and Pediatric Dentistry and course director of pharmacology, Department of Dental Hygiene, at the Ostrow School of Dentistry at University of Southern California (USC). While at USC, Dr. Spolarich chaired the task force for creating a graduate dental hygiene program. In this role, she co-developed the curriculum and was instrumental in getting the program approved by the university, which launched in 2013.

In 2015, Dr. Spolarich began a full-time position with ATSU, where she has helped build the dental school’s research program in addition to teaching. In 2020, she was promoted to her current position as the assistant dean for research. She is only the second dental hygienist to serve as a research dean at a dental school in the United States.

While Dr. Spolarich’s contributions to dental hygiene are ongoing, the impact of what she has achieved thus far is tremendous. She has helped to advance the value for and engagement in research activities, both of which are critical components of the profession.

A mentor to various colleagues and students over her many years in academia and research, Dr. Spolarich’s career serves as a model for what the next generation of dental hygienists can achieve in science and research. She has also served on capstone and doctoral dissertation committees for dental hygiene students.

Dr. Spolarich has widened the field of dental hygiene to encompass scientific research and encourage collaboration with other disciplines. Her leadership has elevated the profession and secured its scientific basis.


Esther M. Wilkins, BS, RDH, DMD

Honoring an Enduring Legacy

Esther M. Wilkins, BS, RDH, DMD—the matriarch of dental hygiene—dedicated her professional life to the prevention of oral disease and the advancement of the dental hygiene profession. She passed away December 12, 2016, three days after her 100th birthday, but her legacy lives on through her textbook, her passion for dental hygiene, and the mentoring she provided to both friends and colleagues.

After earning both her Doctor of Dental Medicine degree and a post-doctoral certificate in periodontology, Dr. Wilkins set out to ensure that dental hygiene was regarded as a profession with high standards. She touched several generations of dental ­hygiene students with her seminal textbook, ­Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, now in its 12th edition. She came up with the idea for a dental hygiene textbook while serving as the founding director of the dental hygiene program at the University of Washington (UW) School of Dentistry in Seattle. Essentially, the book was an enhanced compilation of the student handouts that ­Dr. Wilkins and her teaching staff had created since the program’s inception. In the fall of 1958, H.L. Hudson, a representative of the publishing company Lea & Febiger, paid his annual visit to UW’s Department of Dental Hygiene. Dr. Wilkins showed him the student manual. He turned the pages of the thick, heavy handbook, and finally looked up and said, “We should publish this,” to which Dr. Wilkins replied, “I think that is a very good idea.” He then asked if she could have it ready for that fall. Dr. Wilkins later said, “Little did I realize that therein was the beginning of the rest of my life.” The 12th edition of Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist was published in March 2016. The book will continue publication under the editorship of Linda Boyd, RDH, RD, EdD, of the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene at MCPHS University in Boston.

Dr. Wilkins began teaching at Boston’s Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in 1964, after completing the school’s post-doctoral program in perio­dontology. Extending her reach beyond Tufts, she was also a prolific provider of continuing education for dental hygienists, presenting more than 1,000 programs worldwide through­out her expansive career.

In 2004, Dr. Wilkins’ alma mater, the Forsyth School of Dental Hygiene, now part of MCPHS University in Boston, opened a state-of-the-art dental hygiene clinic in her name—the Esther M. Wilkins Forsyth Dental Hygiene Clinic. In February 2012, she was honored with the American Dental Education Association’s William J. Gies Award for Achievement, Dental Educator.

Dr. Wilkins’ dedication to dental hygiene education and commitment to improving oral health provide a lasting legacy, and her inspiration to the profession is clearly illustrated by the dental hygienists who continue to follow in her footsteps.

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