Dental assisting and dental hygiene students at Truckee Meadows Community College see the difference they make while offering volunteer services and oral health coaching. Helping the community spurs them on to persist in their classes and even perform better on exams.
"Volunteer work is life changing," said Courtney Harrington, 2016 graduate. "It shows you the big need in the community."
Fellow graduate Gina Bartoni immediately added, "More than anyone can imagine."
Julie Stage-Rosenberg, Dental Hygiene Professor, said the data is considerable.
“Our students offered 576 hours of community service this past academic year,” she said.
Her colleague, Julie Muhle, Professor of Dental Assisting agrees that community engagement moves students to success. Since 2002, students have handed out to school children dental kits provided by a partnership with AT&T Pioneers, and presented oral health care information along with these kits.
“As of May 11, the dental assisting students have given dental kits to more than 405 students for 2015-2016 in Washoe, Douglas and Storey Counties,” she said.
Since the partnership between TMCC dental assisting students and AT&T Pioneers began in 2002, about 8,000 school children have benefited from the program in total, Muhle added.
“Community outreach has really impacted the students," she said. "They find that when people are counting on you, they forget it’s time to leave an event where they’re helping out.”
Give Kids a Smile Day was attended by both dental assisting and dental hygiene students and provided $1,030 of free services to 22 local children aged 5-13. Dentist David Lund is an instructor at TMCC and assisted with oral exams. Students also volunteered at the local Dentistry from the Heart event in November.
“The events foster a concern for giving back to their community,” Stage-Rosenberg said. “We also thank the Lee R. Del Grande Foundation for being so very generous in providing grants supporting the annual Give Kids a Smile Day, from 2013 until the present.”
The TMCC Dental Hygiene Clinic offers high-quality, low-cost care to the underserved in the community. The Clinic is staffed by licensed dentists and hygienists who evaluate the students while they are treating their patients. They provide cleanings, sealants, fluoride, X-rays and dental evaluations. Local college students also receive a 50 percent discount for their care and veterans pay a flat rate of $35 for total services provided.
“Some patients come in with dental anxiety, and the students build a rapport with the patients by gaining their trust,” said Lori McDonald, Director of the Dental Hygiene Program at TMCC.
Perfect pass rate
All of this community engagement has benefited these enthusiastic students. Dental assisting students have achieved a 100 percent graduation rate this academic year.
Every one of the 12 dental hygiene students recently passed their National Board Dental Hygiene Written Exam and the Clinical Board Examination in Ontario, Calif. The National Board Dental Hygiene Written Exam is a six-hour test that is comprehensive for dental hygiene classes the students have completed in the past two years. The Clinical Board Examination is a practical assessment and the cohort completed the successful testing in May.
"The dental hygiene profession is a pathway to serve the community and I'm proud of being a dental hygienist," said Reva Natarajan, 2016 graduate.
Another grad, Sarah Droege agrees.
"Volunteering has helped me develop as a clinician in being confident with educating the public in oral health and impacting many lives," she said.
“Seeing a patient smile again is why we are in this profession,” McDonald said.
Note: This article is also set to appear in the American Dental Education Association (ADEA) Bulletin of Dental Education.