IU Northwest’s hygienists, assistants contribute to overall health of community
Feb. 15, 2017
Throughout February, IU Northwest’s dental education students will be out in force, improving the community’s oral health one child at a time.
Handfuls of future hygienists and dental assistants will tote floss, brushes and more to nearly 550 students at over a dozen schools that have requested presentations throughout National Children’s Dental Health Month.
According to Rita Jablon, clinical associate professor of dental education, these field trips by IU Northwest students are more than a vital community service. They are also a necessary part of dental education, enabling the students to grow into the educators that their discipline requires. The professionals that IU Northwest’s Department of Dental Education graduates each year are teachers and community stewards as much as they are hygienists and dental assistants.
“It’s been woven into the fabric of our curriculum for decades,” said Donna Krause, director of dental education and assistant dean of the College of Health and Human Services.
IU Northwest’s dental education program, the only one in Northwest Indiana, enrolls about 65 students each year and boasts an 80 percent employment placement rate.
Crown Point resident Lesley Richards, who earned her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene in 2016, has worked as a full-time hygienist since 2014.
“My IU Northwest education molded me into an educator, not just a health care provider. I believe personal dental care will improve when people are educated on their oral health,” Richards said. “I say health, referring to the entire body, not only the mouth. The oral cavity can be linked to various conditions and that is all too commonly unknown, which is why I consider myself an educator. I work to improve the community's health through education and professional care.”
She said hers is a discipline that is inherently community-service oriented, and that is one of the reasons she loves it.
“Many dental offices serve the public via donations, educational presentations to school children and free dental services on designated days, like Veteran's Day."
Giving back through service learning
In May, the dental education program extended a hand to veterans by partnering with the Northwest Indiana Dental Society and the Northwest Indiana Dental Hygienists’ Association for the first time to treat veterans at the IU Northwest Dental Education Clinic. The response was overwhelming. Nearly 78 veterans were pre-screened and accepted based on their income and dental needs; many had not seen a dentist or previously had regular cleanings. Fifteen area dentists and hygienists donated their time and close to $15,000 in services to the endeavor. They gave the veterans six months to follow up and claim the free services pledged by the dentists and the dental hygiene program.
Ronda Worden, clinic support manager, said that of the roughly 65 veterans who were treated last year, about 40 of them have since returned for cleanings To help these and other veterans receive regular care, Worden said the clinic recently implemented a 25 percent discount for all veterans and is planning a second event in spring 2018.
During the spring semester, students also travel to the Indiana State Prison and the Veterans Health Administration in Crown Point to provide cleanings, which serve as on-the-job training, but also a community service.
“Dentistry is a profession that gives back,” Krause said. “Often, people go into this profession because of their desire to give back.”