Endowed Scholarship Honors Dental Hygienist
By Catherine Duncan
For more than 40 years, Sylvia Canales Ballinger was that special dental hygienist whose patients looked forward to seeing for their dental cleanings. She cared for generations of families and treated them as if they were her own family members.
Sylvia was born in San Antonio and graduated from Lee High School. She earned her degree in dental hygiene from Bee County College in Beeville, Texas. She returned to her hometown to begin her career as a dental hygienist. For the last 23 years, she worked at the dental practice of Warren B. Branch, D.D.S. Class of 1981. She cared for his patients until her passing on May 10, 2020, at age 64.
Dr. Branch said Sylvia began her career working for Claude Nabers, D.D.S., a renowned periodontist who designed the Nabers probe. “Sylvia attained her excellent skill set from the best when she worked for Dr. Nabers.”
Dr. Branch said he was fortunate when she came to work for him. He remembers Sylvia as “a leader who was the office glue. She took care of stocking, handling all vendors, and helping the dental assistants. Sylvia was a learner and was knowledgeable about everything in dentistry,” he said.
Although Sylvia possessed outstanding skills in dental cleaning, Dr. Branch said that is not the reason she was loved by her patients. “Patients said they enjoyed coming to the dental office because of her. Even those who previously hadn’t liked coming for dental appointments said they looked forward to them because of Sylvia.”
Sylvia was “old school”; she was in it to take care of people, he said. However, despite her years in the industry, she was flexible to change and open to advances in technology. One of her last projects was training the assistants in laser hygiene. And, when the pandemic occurred, she still came to the office every day to be on top of sterilization practices.
Stepdaughter Thea Ballinger Lyssy said she met Sylvia as a 10-year-old who had just moved to San Antonio with her father, Tom Ballinger. Lyssy said Sylvia cleaned their teeth, and they all became friends. Coincidentally about five years later, Tom bought a home on the same street as Sylvia’s home. Lyssy said although the two started off as friends, their affection for each other grew over the years, and they began dating. Tom and Sylvia married in 2011.
“I have heard from many of her patients. She was so much more to them than their dental hygienist. She always remembered every detail of each person’s life even though she only saw them every six months,” Lyssy said. “She was a giver who was very talented and crafty. For patients or their children, she was always willing to create something special for their wedding, baby shower or other special event. They became an extension of her family.”
Rene “Randy” Canales, Sylvia’s brother, explains his sister’s selflessness. “Sylvia helped others when they needed it. She was a mother hen type of person. At one time or another, every family member lived with her. She opened her home to friends too. She always made sure others were taken care of.”
Canales said his sister never thought about herself. With Tom, a U.S. Navy veteran who is past-president of Vietnam Veterans Chapter #366 and a member of VFW Post 1533, she became involved in helping veterans, including laying wreaths at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. Canales said her tombstone at the national cemetery states, “She asked for so little but gave so much.”
In honor of Sylvia’s selfless and giving spirit as well as her dedication to the field of dental hygiene, the family established an endowed scholarship in her name to support dental hygiene students.
Even now, Sylvia continues to help others.