A textbook case of achievement
Lisa Mallonee has become a bit of a celebrity around the office as she signs books for her admiring colleagues. The tenured professor and graduate program director in the Caruth School of Dental Hygiene admits the experience has been somewhat surreal.
With her name now on the front of Wilkins’ Clinical Practice of the Dental Hygienist, 13th edition, Mallonee makes a point to pen personal notes inside for her co-workers at Texas A&M College of Dentistry. She lovingly mentioned her “Caruth family” on the book’s dedication page. The “dental hygiene bible” has been a staple in professional education circles for decades.
“Thirty years ago I was sitting in dental hygiene class, not thinking that I would one day have my name on the cover of that book. It’s awe-inspiring to me,” she says.
Dr. Esther Wilkins, who first wrote the in-depth manual in 1959, was a well-known dental hygiene advocate and educator. Her hefty textbook has been updated every four to five years since then. Mallonee’s first copy was the fifth edition, which she studied as a dental hygiene student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Adams School of Dentistry.
Years later, Mallonee met Wilkins during a visit to the Caruth School. She signed Mallonee’s fifth edition as well as her newest one then, the ninth edition.
Like many in the dental hygiene profession, Mallonee admired Wilkins on so many levels. She still has a photo of the dental hygiene pioneer dancing at an annual American Dental Hygiene Association meeting.
“She was a big proponent of lifelong learning and always seemed to have boundless energy. She was a pistol,” Mallonee says. “Dr. Wilkins was actually a dental hygienist first and then trained as a periodontist. She was passionate about the dental hygiene profession.”
The 12th edition, Wilkins’ last, was published in 2016, the same year she died at age 100. Just months before that, Mallonee attended a dietetic meeting in Boston with co-author Dr. Linda Boyd. While there, Boyd shared with Mallonee how Wilkins had left the textbook’s future in her hands. Mallonee immediately congratulated Boyd on this immense honor.
“She then looks at me and says, ‘I want you to do it with me. I would like you to consider serving on the editorial team as a co-author for the 13th edition,’” Mallonee recalls. “My eyes welled up with tears.”
She didn’t need time to mull it over. “What is there to think about? This is Esther Wilkins. This is the dental hygiene bible. I can’t say no to Esther Wilkins.”
Mallonee and Boyd’s partnership (and friendship) goes back to the late ’90s when Mallonee was in graduate school. She read several oral health- and nutrition-focused papers that Boyd had authored.
“I saw she was a dietitian and dental hygienist and also involved in academics,” says Mallonee, a registered and licensed dietitian with comparable credentials. “I reached out and introduced myself. Our dual background is kind of a niche. Although there are several dietitians that work in dental schools, there are very few dietitians who are also dental hygienists.”
Boyd chose Mallonee to co-author because she knew they had similar work ethics.
“That’s important because our deadlines were fast and furious,” she says. “And it’s important to keep the tradition going and know you’re bringing the right people onboard.”
Thus began their three-year collaboration on the 13th edition. Mallonee and Boyd, along with Charlotte Wyche, set out to not only carry on Wilkins’ legacy but to honor it as well. This serious task was daunting, but Mallonee says their quest turned into a labor of love as they pored over the 1,000-page-plus update.
Wyche had worked on the ninth through 12th editions with Wilkins, Mallonee says, and also created the first workbook, which was implemented alongside the ninth edition.
“When she talks about Esther, it’s like she’s in the room with us. It’s so neat how both she and Linda bring her to life,” she says.
Together, they condensed chapters, reorganized for better flow, updated guidelines for blood pressure and the latest periodontal classifications, left classic literature in place and ensured each chapter was updated to include the most current evidence. However, they stuck with Wilkins’ hallmark outline format.
“Esther was very passionate about having the outline format versus just straight text. She felt like that was better for studying and learning,” she says.
Mallonee oversaw contributor edits for 25 chapters, three of which she revised and authored, including the nutrition chapter. She was awarded faculty development leave during the 2019 spring semester to fully focus on the textbook as the final pages were proofed and completed. Although the 13th edition is freshly off the press, they’ll have a short window to catch their breath before starting on the next one in 2021.
Mallonee says that when Boyd initially approached her about the opportunity to join Wilkins’ team, she teased Mallonee about taking the helm when she retires. Until then, Mallonee says she plans to play a key role in future editions and glean wisdom from Boyd’s experience and insightful leadership.
“So for now I’m just content being a part of the team effort overseeing continued development of this hallowed dental hygiene tradition,” she says.
Mallonee can’t imagine what her career would have been like without the profoundly impactful peers she’s met along the way. She has long considered Boyd as a key professional mentor.
“I tell my undergraduate, graduate and predoctoral students, along with dietetic interns I oversee, ‘Networking is key. You just never know what doors may open up for you,'” she says. “‘Never be afraid to reach out and make an introduction with someone who has similar professional interests. You never know when opportunities will present themselves.’”
At this point in Mallonee’s career, the book is just the icing on the cake, or the hummus on pita.
“It is indeed an honor and the highlight of my professional career. I’m still basking in the glory of receiving my copy—and actually getting to hold in my hands the fruits of my labor the past few years,” she says.