September 12, 2018 11:22 am
Tucked away on the Pierce College Fort Steilacoom campus is the surprisingly large Dental Hygiene Clinic, with spacious treatment areas, classrooms and high-tech diagnostic areas. Besides functioning as a real-world training ground for tomorrow’s dental hygienists, the clinic also provides affordable dental care for community members.
“We serve a range of people including Pierce College students, veterans, retirees, immigrants and low-income individuals,” says Monica Hospenthal, RDH, BS, M.Ed., Director of the Bachelor in Applied Science Dental Hygiene (BASDH) program.
Fees are 80% to 95% less than what is typically charged in private dental offices. Fees for some services are further reduced for currently enrolled Pierce College students and active-duty military, veterans and their dependents.
Patients are often referred by dental practices or community organizations.
“We screen potential patients to make sure they can provide appropriate learning experiences for students,” says Hospenthal. “For new patients, we do a mini-assessment of their oral health. Through this, we sometimes find people who need to see a primary care medical provider for a health issue. There are strong links between oral and systemic health.”
Clinic services include:
- comprehensive exams
- digital dental X-rays
- adult and child professional cleaning
- amalgam and composite fillings
- gum treatment/deep cleaning
- teeth desensitizing, fluoride treatments
Junior and senior level students provide services under the supervision of faculty who are licensed dental hygienists and dentists, 21 in all. Dental hygienists in Washington State also administer local anesthesia and perform the restorative procedures of placing and finishing fillings.
Dental hygienists are much in demand. “When they graduate, they can expect to make a starting wage of $45 to $55 and hour,” says Hospenthal. “With a bachelor’s degree, they can also pursue careers in education, advocacy, public health and administration.”
There are only 10 dental hygiene programs in Washington State. Pierce College’s program is one of the state’s leading and longest-standing dental hygiene programs, accredited since 1973. It is the only program serving the South Sound area (Pierce, Kitsap and Thurston Counties). Admission is highly competitive, with 20 students accepted each year.
In 2017, the program transitioned from a two-year associate’s degree program to a four-year Bachelor of Applied Science in Dental Hygiene (BASDH) program. Pierce College now also offers a Bridge BASDH program for Washington state associate dental hygienists wanting to complete their bachelor’s degree.
“The BASDH is a rigorous program,” says Hospenthal. “Prerequisites are similar to those in nursing programs. Successful dental hygiene students tend to be critical thinkers and highly detail-oriented. It’s also physically and mentally challenging work.”
To help, the college offers unique self-care programs for dental hygiene students. Junior level students work with Kinesiology Department students to create personalized exercise programs to offset the physical demands of their work. In another partnership, University of Puget Sound occupational therapy students conduct individual workplace ergonomic analyses for Pierce students, benefiting students from both disciplines and institutions.
The graduation rate at Pierce is 80–90 percent, according to Hospenthal, with 100 percent of graduates passing the state licensure boards. Most dental hygienists go on to work in private dental practices or corporate dental practices, a growing model in dentistry.
“Above all, students go into this field because they want to help people,” says Hospenthal. “Hygienists develop relationships with patients over time and that is very rewarding.”
The Dental Hygiene Clinic’s hours of operation are aligned with the academic schedule. The clinic is open all year on Monday afternoons, all day Tuesdays and Thursday mornings. In winter and spring, hours of operation include all day Wednesdays and Friday mornings. Appointments are required. For more information, visit the Dental Hygiene Clinic web page or call 253-964-6694.