Destined for Dentistry
Not that long ago, dental assistants would reach into and around patients’ mouths without gloves. All of the saliva, mucous, and sometimes blood, came into contact with your skin.
Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC) Dental Assistant program leader and instructor Bonnie Crawford, remembers those days well.
“Back when we started – no gloves, no mask,” she said. “Dentistry, and everything, has changed about infection control, germs, and diseases. Back in the day you had an alcohol gauze and you’d wipe certain things down.”
“Strange, I really haven’t wrapped my head around that yet,” she said of retiring. “I’ve got lots of work to do; I’m getting ready for a national accreditation for our program. I’ve been so busy with that I haven’t really been able to think about the other so much.”
Her journey to dental assisting can be traced back to Central Junior High in downtown Rochester. It was one block away from the Rochester Junior College (what RCTC was called in its early days).
“So, we went underground in this tunnel from the middle school – we called it a junior high then because it was seventh, eighth, and ninth grade – to the junior college. It had all these little steam pipes, very kind of spooky. And so, we got to be amongst the college students.”
She remembers having a science fair at the College in ninth grade. A classmate displayed a project on the cardio-pulmonary bypass machine, with the actual heart-lung machine.
“At that time, it wasn’t really that old,” she said. “He had gotten it because his dad worked at Mayo and his dad was a doctor working with that machine.
The particular science and field Crawford wanted to initially go into was architecture.
But back then she was told it just wouldn’t be possible. Her counselor told her women weren’t hired as architects.
She was guided to Rochester Junior College to do generals and find an interest that way. After graduating from Rochester Mayo High School in 1970, she did that.
She pursued nursing next. But the waiting lists to get into the programs were two years long in Rochester.
Then she came to the Rochester Technical College (the “technical” in RCTC) and found the dental assisting program with some openings.
She graduated in 1973 from the building that is currently the Heintz Center and worked in the field for just under three years before being recruited by faculty from the program she was in to possibly teach her craft. “I like talking and helping,” Crawford admitted, and she was also active in local, state, and national dental assistant groups. “[I] just loved dentistry and could see myself enjoying it and spreading my wings a little.”
Her first day on Feb. 13, 1976, remains vivid. She was handed a pad of paper, some pens, a textbook, and the class schedule. Her office was in a storeroom. No computers. Typewriters and mimeograph machines were the height of technology. She was younger than some of her students.
“It was just all very different but I loved it right away because it was dentistry,”
It was a joyful enough career she stuck with it for decades. Crawford would work her way up to the dental assistant program leader and instructor around 1990.
Crawford never stopped loving her job. “I love dentistry,” she began. “It’s fun to serve people and try to really help them have a really healthy experience and a positive experience in dentistry. And of course, you work with students. You always get a new group of students and you’re preparing them for a career.”