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1000 smiles for Salli-Jo Walker

Published:Wednesday | January 6, 2016 | 2:00 PM

At just 25 years old, Jamaican Dental Hygienist Salli-Jo Walker is making her mark as the project manager for 1000 smiles. The world's largest international humanitarian dental project by Great Shape! Inc., Walker is the first ever Dental Hygiene Committee member from Jamaica in the American Dental Examinations Body (ADEX). She is also one of the first set of graduates from the UTech School of Oral Health Sciences, and is currently an ambassador of Colgate Total.

"I think it was one of my early dental visits in primary school that got me so fascinated with the profession," Walker shared with Flair. She continued, "I went to get a restoration on a tooth I chipped. Being exposed to the instruments and how fancy the office was definitely caught my attention. However, I think what really cemented this idea of being in the dental field was the instant gratification I received when I walked out of that office after my smile was fixed."

Walker grew up in Old Harbour, St Catherine, and attended the Marlie Mount Primary School before moving on to Glenmuir High School, where she graduated in 2006. She was initially accepted into the Mechanical Engineering diploma programme at in 2006, but was able to switch to the newly instituted Dental Hygiene Programme by 2009, graduating with a first class B.Sc hons in Dental Hygiene, in 2012. Having been in the field for the past four years, Walker explains, "In dental hygiene, there are five essential areas in which you can develop your career, and currently I am working in Administrative Dental Hygiene."

day-to-day logistics

Shortly after college, she was hired as a project manager by Great Shape! Inc. 1000 Smiles Dental Project. "I practise clinically on my dental project but it is sporadic. I deal mainly with taking care of the day-to-day logistics of the project," explains Walker. "We go all over the country and see thousands of children and adults."

Great Shape Inc is a non-profit organisation founded in 1988 in response to Hurricane Gilbert. In 2003, the organisation launched 1000 Smiles, which is a mobile project that goes to a different location every month. Last November, they were in Whitehouse, Westmoreland, serving the surrounding communities. "We go into mainly primary schools and see about 400 children each day, to teach them about healthy oral habits, brushing, flossing, healthy foods, and give healthy lifestyle tips." Walker maintains that "Not including education patients, we saw more than 7,000 clinical patients in that area."The organisation itself benefits more than 40,000 people each year.

"I'm most proud, that after 26 years operating only in Jamaica, this year, we were able to branch out and offer services in St Lucia. I'm honoured to have played a major role in that - contacting the Government of St Lucia and their Ministry of Health, getting them to agree to have our programme in the country, and getting dentists from around the world registered and signed up. It's so rewarding," enthuses Walker.

Walker was asked to apply and was subsequently chosen to join the American Dental Examinations Body. Additionally, she has become a Colgate Total ambassador. "I believe in the product and was thrilled to be asked to share my views on Colgate Total. After all, they are the No. 1 toothpaste recommended by dentists for a reason," she affirms.

From her sterling academic performance to her outstanding accomplishments at work, Walker continues to inspire.