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Dental Hygiene Alumnus Proud of Profession, Grateful for Doors it Opened

Demario Walls, an alumnus of the Dental Hygiene program in the College of Dentistry, has traveled the world, but continues to stay connected to his alma mater. His degree has helped him in many ways, and he encourages others to join the field. “It’s a great education, and it also opened the door to a lot of opportunities,” he says.

A Master of Dental Hygiene degree has been a ticket to see the world for UT Health Science Center College of Dentistry alumnus Lt. Cmdr. Demario Walls. 

A clinical adjunct instructor in the College of Dentistry and 2017 graduate of the former master’s program in dental hygiene, Walls serves as a lieutenant commander in the United States Public Health Service. 

For the past three years, he has been stationed as a pharmaceutical investigator with the Food and Drug Administration, traveling internationally to inspect manufacturers producing drugs intended for the U.S. market. Work destinations have included Brazil, India, Thailand, Ecuador, Peru, and Costa Rica. 

While the trajectory of his career has taken him a long way from the dental office, Walls stays close to his roots in dental hygiene. He lives in Memphis with his wife and daughter, and several times a month, he instructs senior dental hygiene students in the College of Dentistry in the clinical aspects of the practice. 

He credits his dental hygiene education with preparing him for excellence in the clinic and beyond. “I think it’s a great field to pursue,” Walls says. “It’s hard work. It’s a great education, and it also opened the door to a lot of opportunities.” 

Walls recalls picking dental hygiene as a career while attending Overton High School in Memphis. “It was just fascinating,” he says. He took prerequisites at Tennessee State University and then came home to Memphis to attend Concorde Career College. There, he met Lynn Russell, RDH, EdD, who was the director of the dental hygiene program and is now the chair and graduate program coordinator for the Department of Dental Hygiene at UT Health Science Center. 

Walls was going to school during the day and bartending and waiting tables at Colton’s Steakhouse in Olive Branch and the FedExForum for Memphis Grizzlies games. “I was behind the bar with my books open reading,” he says. 

“Every now and again, you see great potential in a student,” Dr. Russell says. “Such was the case with Demario. I knew he would excel. He has done great things and I expect he will continue to do so.” 

“When people think of a dental hygienist, they only think of cleaning teeth, but we function a lot more past just cleaning the teeth.”

Demario Walls

Walls received an associate degree in dental hygiene from Concorde. He continued to pursue his education, completing a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from the University of Mississippi in 2014, a master’s in dental hygiene from UT Health Science Center in 2017, and a doctorate from the University of Virginia, Lynchburg. 

“A master’s in dental hygiene expanded on more than just the clinical aspect of a dental hygienist,” he says. “When people think of a dental hygienist, they only think of cleaning teeth, but we function a lot more past just cleaning the teeth. We do a lot of administrative work and a lot of investigative work. When we review a medical history and then we see what the patient presents clinically, we get to connect the dots and get the bigger picture of this person’s health. The master’s program helped me think outside the box on what else I can do besides clinical work.” 

Public health proved to be that what else in his life. Walls was commissioned in the United States Public Health Service in 2016. 

He was stationed as a dental hygienist at the Federal Correction Institute, Memphis, where he worked for six years. 

“Working with inmates, it’s just a scary situation, but I was always calm,” he says. “I’d see these guys with tattoos all over their face, and the first thing they said was, ‘I’m afraid of the dentist.’ Usually, it is the second or third time they’ve ever been in a dental clinic. So, it’s much-needed work, and they just always feel comfortable with me.” 

In 2021, Walls received the Distinguished Service Award from the College of Dentistry for this work, as well as his national and international service providing dental hygiene to the underserved. 

He serves as the treasurer of the Memphis Dental Hygienists’ Association. He encourages his students to join professional organizations for networking and professional growth. 

At 35, he’s enjoying his work and teaching, but remains open to what the future brings. “This job with the FDA allows me to travel and see the world and take my family and do something exciting, so I don’t know what’s in the future yet.” 

This story initially ran in the 2024 College of Dentistry Magazine.