Let's face it – lots of people dread dental exams. A visit to UAA's Dental Programs Clinic, however, is more like going to a friendly spa.
The clinic's dental hygienists are degree-seeking students. Before they are allowed to work in the clinic on patients, students must complete prerequisites in biology, chemistry, psychology, sociology, communication and English. Then they dedicate themselves to four in-depth dental curriculum and lots of hands-on training in the clinic.
Susan Luethge is the clinic's full-time instructor. She's been with the program for nine years. Luethge says students in the dental program are goal-oriented people. "They need to enjoy people, be health oriented, and like science courses," said Luethge.
The clinic's clientele is not limited to UAA students. It's also open to the public. Yvonne Herron is the clinic's scheduling coordinator and the patient's first point of contact. Herron has been with the program for four years, and has been a certified dental assistant for 12 years.
After a patient schedules an appointment, they are must complete a lengthy medical history form before the hygienist can proceed with the exam.
UAA's hygienists are very professional and dress in vibrantly colored scrubs. They wear protective eyeglasses, facemasks and surgical gloves during the exam.
For many of the hygienists in UAA's Dental Program, this is their second or third career choice. Joni Hurst and Florenda Womble, are two such seniors who plan to graduate in May.
Hurst is a licensed veterinary technician, with a bachelor's degree in animal science from New Mexico State University. Hurst planned to become a veterinarian and even did graduate work for a while, but she didn't like doing research. Before entering UAA's Dental Hygiene Program, Hurst worked full-time in the valley for All Creatures Veterinary Clinic. "I love the work, but it doesn't pay enough," said Hurst.
Hurst was looking for a career change when she began thumbing through UAA's catalogue. She noticed the Dental Hygiene Program. "This was just a perfect switch for me," said Hurst.
Dental hygiene gives Hurst a sense of fulfillment. "It isn't the kind of job you can blow off. You have to be dependable and caring. You have to want to do this because it's not always easy," said Hurst.
Hurst enjoys this type of work. "You really like working on people with a lot of calculus buildup because you can really see the difference you've made," she said.
Womble's was a hairstylist for several years. Then she was a Mark Air flight attendant but quit to stay at home with her two children.
When Womble decided she needed more regiment in her life, she decided to major in UAA's nursing program. "I thought nursing was the career field for me," she said. Then a friend Womble's in the Dental Hygiene Program started talking about her experiences as a hygienist. This piqued Womble's interest and she switched her major to dental hygiene.
"Everything I took for nursing applied to dental hygiene," said Womble.
Womble is dedicated to this profession.
"When I look into the mouth, I look at it as a science project. You enjoy it. It's not a turn off because we look at things differently," she said.
Womble thinks the best part of dental hygiene is "knowing that you are contributing to good health. There are so many things you can see when you look into someone's mouth from a health aspect," said Womble.
Each year 12 hygienists graduate from the Dental Hygiene Program. To become a licensed hygienist, they must pass a state exam.
Hygienists typically work 35 hours a week or two or three days a week.
The pay rate $25 to $35 an hour, unless you work in rural Alaska, which pays $40 an hour. Sometimes hygienists are paid on a 50 to 60 percent basis.
The rate for teeth cleaning in the private sector ranges from $80 to $99, which does not include fluoride treatment. UAA students and senior citizens get a $5 discount on services performed at the Dental Programs Clinic.
For a Perio I light calculus cleaning, the fee is $18, while a moderate is $23 and a heavy is $28. The fee increases slightly, depending on the amount of calculus buildup. The maximum fee charged is $70, which is for heavy calculus buildup at the Perio III, IV and V levels.
Fluoride treatment is included in the cost of a cleaning. The clinic also performs other services such as x-rays, tooth sealant and desensitization.
If you are interested in becoming a dental hygienist or a dental assistant, call Karen Childers, the administrative assistant for UAA Dental Auxiliary Programs, at 786-6929.
The Dental Programs Clinic is not highly advertised and relies on patient recommendations, dental fairs or posters. It is opened during the spring and fall semesters, from mid-September to early-May, but is closed during Christmas, spring and summer breaks. There are 24 hygienists in the program per semester, and the clinic treatments 600 to 800 patients a year.
The Dental Programs Clinic is located at the corner of Seawolf and Providence Drive on the first floor of the Allied Health Sciences Building in room 124. Call 786-6960 to make an appointment. For more information, visit their web site at http://www.uaa.alaska.edu/dental.