Pierce program brushes up for dentistry career

Information about the dental hygiene degree at Pierce College.

Anna Palmer

Since 1974, the dental hygiene program at Pierce College has existed for the purpose of training students to receive their dental hygiene license and enter the profession.

During the years and because of the demand for dental hygienists, the program has experienced major changes such as incorporating inter-professional education and fully moving to electronic health records.

“Dental hygienists are in demand. Many people have some degree of oral disease and preventive care is an ongoing need,” Dental Hygiene Program Director Monica Hospenthal said.

The job of a dental hygienist is much different from a dental assistant in that they are a primary provider. They treat patients with gum disease, provide injections in the mouth and place fillings.

The program is competitive as only 20 spots a year are available without a wait list. Once accepted, the students enter two rigorous years of course study that includes treating patients in the dental hygiene clinic at Fort Steilacoom.

“We have a full dental hygiene clinic where we accept patients.  Students begin learning in a lab setting and then in the second quarter of the program, begin treating patients in the clinic,” Hospenthal said.

The community benefits from reduced fees in the dental hygiene clinic if, after a free screening appointment, they are accepted as a “teaching case.”

“A teaching case means that they qualify during that point of the quarter for what the students need to learn on,” Hospenthal said.

If accepted as a teaching case, Pierce College students receive further discounted fees for select treatments. The clinic can be reached at 253-964-6694.

For a prospective student hoping to apply for Pierce’s dental hygiene program, two years of previous academic requirements are required which are listed on the Pierce website.

Applications for this year’s program are due Jan. 23, 2015. Hospenthal strongly suggests that before students apply for this program, they are sure this is something they wish to pursue and are committed to.

“They need to find out if this is something they truly want to get involved in,” Hospenthal said. “Shadowing dental hygienists and going in and observing them in the workplace would be a really good place to start because it gives you an idea if this is the work environment and the type of work you might find interesting and enjoy doing.”

The four years of work to become a licensed, registered dental hygienist currently entails 189.5 credits. Approximately 3,000 contact hours are spent in education and 1,600 are spent in the lab and clinic.

“At the end (of the program) there are seven licensing examinations that the dental hygiene graduate must pass before the state will give them the license to practice,” Hospenthal said.

These exams include an eight-hour national dental hygiene written exam, a patient exam where the dental hygienist student works on a patient to pass certain standards, a local anesthesia written and practical exam, a practical filling exam and a law exam.

“So we have to go through a lot,” Hospenthal said.

As the dental hygiene field has entered the modern world, it has expanded and brought new roles. There’s far more a dental hygienist can do than just work in a private dental practice.

“They can work in public health, dental sales, advocacy, leadership; there are many emerging roles using our skills and services,” Hospenthal said.

The dental hygiene graduates from Pierce currently earn an associates in dental hygiene degree.

Although, students receive their dental hygiene license after completion of the program, they may transfer to a university to earn a bachelor’s degree and eventually, graduate school.

“(Our students) are stellar and we have a 100 percent board pass rate,” Hospenthal said.

For more information about the Dental Hygiene program, visit the Dental Hygiene Department Home on the Pierce College website at www.pierce.ctc.edu/dept/denthyg/ or call 253-964-6796.

“The dental hygiene faculty and staff are continually committed to student success,” Hospenthal said.

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Pierce program brushes up for dentistry career

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