Dental Assisting Students Inspired By Outreach

K. Patricia Bouweraerts

Dental Assistant Students Image

Helping others to feel better and look better has made as much or more difference for many dental assisting students than the grateful recipients of their service.

“Community outreach has really impacted the students – it has enriched their experience,” said Julie Muhle, Professor of Dental Assisting at Truckee Meadows Community College. “They find that these people are counting on you, and they forget it’s time to leave an event where they’re helping out.”

Muhle was referring to a day-long event providing free dental care to those in need. The students were scheduled to volunteer until 4 p.m. as part of their program at TMCC, but none left until after 6 p.m.

Dentistry from the Heart is an annual oral health care clinic day

An optional community service project that many of the dental assisting students participate in is called Dentistry from the Heart, a one day national event each November. In Northern Nevada, Sala Family Dentistry and Dr. Scott Boyden serve about 120 patients on this day and the value of services provided is typically more than $70,000, Muhle said.

The community events have been life-changing for some of the TMCC students.

“A student was so inspired by Dentistry from the Heart, she’s now in the pre-dental program at Idaho State,” Muhle said. “Another student was so inspired by the event, she finished her clinical rotations two months early. She said, ‘I’ve just got to get out there and do this.’”

One dental assisting student who was unsure of her career path throughout the program experienced an awakening at the event.

“She was so touched by helping people to be pain free – to feel better and look better, she was convinced that dental assisting was definitely the right career for her,” Muhle said.

Educational outreach to elementary school kids

An outreach program that dental assisting students plan and carry out is for elementary school classes. The presentations teach children about oral health care. TMCC students research and write material for their age-appropriate demonstrations, along with visual aids. They present at schools in need and offer an interactive talk for grades K-3, and another for grades 4-6.

The educational outreach program is given at a different school each year.

“We’ve served more than 9000 children in Washoe, Storey, Lyon and Douglas Counties since we started the program in 1999,” Muhle said.

She said that elementary kids need the extra attention dental assisting students can give with visuals and hands-on teaching.

“Sometimes there are language barriers to finding information on their own,” Muhle said. “These presentations spark their excitement. Age-appropriateness is the key. Our students interact together with the children in language and with visuals they understand. They talk about what to expect at a dentist’s visit, and they talk about good nutrition.”

The presentations also help to introduce children to the assistants they will see in the dental office.

“Children can even educate their parents about the oral health concepts they learn in school,” Muhle said.

At the demonstrations, kids also receive an oral care bag with toothbrush, floss, toothpaste, literature, disclosing tablets and sometimes a timer. Disclosing tablets show what has not yet been brushed off of teeth.

“We partner with AT&T Pioneers, a nonprofit network of volunteers, in providing the oral health care bags for school children,” Muhle said. “It’s really fun for the kids to receive the goodie bags.”

Dental assisting students provide outreach and education at off-campus events. They also work together with Dental Hygiene students at an annual February on-campus event, Give Kids a Smile Day.

Choosing a rotation in public health is another opportunity to serve

Of the three required clinical rotations needed toward the Dental Assisting Certificate of Achievement, two are general dental internships and one is a specialty rotation. Students can choose their preferred specialty, one of which is public health. This specialty may include either working at the Community Health Alliance clinic, Job Corps, Reno Sparks Tribal Health Center or VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System.

Dental assisting students sometimes choose to do work benefitting the oral health of veterans. The future dental assistants may enroll in a free VA affiliation training course that gives the student extra credit, and an additional credential for their resume.

Dental Assisting Certificate of Achievement requirements

Dental assisting students are required to participate in selected community engagement events sponsored by the department, but do not have a specific number of total hours required.

Students are also required to be trained for and then complete two sets of full mouth X-rays. The supervised X-ray procedure is provided during clinics on the Dandini Campus, free for patients – a $160 value. Local dentists donate some of the film needed at the clinic, as well.

For more information about the Dental Assisting Program, please call 775-673-7115.