Interview: Ashleigh Littlehales – Oral Health Therapist

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by Chloe Thornton


Interview: Ashleigh Littlehales – Oral Health Therapist

Hello my name is Ashleigh (mostly Ash) and I am currently living in Geelong. I originally grew up in Melbourne south east suburbs but I love Geelong and all it has to offer. I have lots of different interests from staying active at the gym, yoga and spending time at the beach with my dog ‘Wilfred’.  I’m also a tragic for bad reality TV, mostly ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ and ‘Teen Mom.’


Job Title:

It also depends who is asking and what country you are from.

So many different job descriptions but I’m essentially an Oral Health Therapist which is a combination of a Dental Hygienist and Dental Therapist.


What does your current job entail?

I currently work full time in a private dental practice in Geelong. In my role I perform a few different roles from general check-ups and cleans, preventative care treatments, restorative treatments (fillings) on children and adults, assisting in orthodontic procedures (braces and Invisalign), teeth whitening, treatment and management of gum disease and also oral health promotion.

What/who inspired you to become an OHT? Did you always know you wanted to work as an OHT?

I actually fell into the world of dentistry but I’m so glad I did.

In high school I always knew I wanted to work in the health industry. As I got closer the completing my VCE I thought I wanted to do nursing/ midwifery (part of me still does). I ended up for some reason commencing a science degree and I knew after my first semester I preferred something more hands on. From there I took some time away from study where I began dental assisting. I ended up completing my traineeship and knew I wanted to peruse the dental pathway further.


What has the path, from commencement of study to now, looked like for you? Has there been any change in direction?

Oral health therapy in general can be a tough course to get into in Australia and is super competitive with limited places. Only 5 Universities in Australia offer the course and you’re also competing with those wishing to get into dentistry. So in order to make myself more a more desirable candidate back to Uni I went (Science at Monash) to increase my GPA. After a year of science (again), I applied for every Oral health therapy degree in Australia (and midwifery just in case). I was accepted into 2 courses (both interstate) and ended up in Rockhampton, Queensland.

I chose Rockhampton as my course as at the time they were the only degree offering advanced scope which meant I was also able to treat adults at any age.

Where did you do your training and how long did it take?

I completed my Bachelor of Oral Health Therapy with Central Queensland University which took me 3 years full time. All up I ended up with 4 years at University inclusive of my time at Monash Uni studying science.


What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome to be where you are today?

I think Uni was one of the biggest challenges to date but also one of the best experiences of my life. My course was very intense with essentially full time hours all on campus or in placements. Thrown into that was being 3000km away from my family and friends, so left to figure out the adventure for myself. I grew so much out of this however, and was able to make some incredible friendships, experiences and also find the love of my life.


What is your favourite thing about your job?

I love the relationships I build with my patients. I’ve been in my current job for over 3 years and it’s so great to watch people grow and develop. You go on a complete journey together. I also love creating positive outcomes for patients which not only improves their health but quality of life.

You also have to surround yourself with a pretty great team. So that’s a lot of fun too.


What is your least favourite thing about your job?

Some days I can feel like a giant germ. This dental world is not all glamour, so you need to prepare yourself to be covered in bodily fluids most days of the week.

Also when it comes to the dentist it’s generally not everyone’s favourite place to be. Patients can bring a lot of stress and anxious energy into your clinic so managing that does come with its difficulties. It’s a very rewarding role however you need to ensure you have the right tools in place to keep yourself and patients mentally in check.

What sticks out to you as the most important lesson you’ve learnt in your career so far?

Learn from your mistakes. While at the time they can consume you, it’s important to reflect at a later date on what you’ve learnt and how to improve the outcome in future situations.


Any special areas of interest that you may explore in the future?

I’ve been keen to pursue a path towards speech therapy. There is so much to learn in oral health so it’s important to me to continue learning and broadening my understanding of the mouth and body. (My first step is paying off that pesky HECS loan though)


What tips or words of wisdom would you share with someone thinking of becoming an Oral health therapist or Dentist?

While you’re studying take on all the advice you can get and enjoy it. We can sometimes get caught up in external influences/ stressors but remember why you started. When things get a bit much remind yourself to focus on your patients, creating positive experiences and providing the best treatment you can give.

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