Dental sciences students bring skills to Union

October 07, 2010 07:12 am
UNION —  The  Union Family Health Center, students from the ODS College of Dental Sciences and people in need of dental care all will benefit from a program that started up at the center last week.

Second-year ODS students are helping Dr. Joel Bender, the center’s dentist, with screening and oral hygiene procedures ranging from x-rays and oral cancer exams to cleanings, fluoride and sealant treatments, and more.

“I’m excited that the students are getting experience working in a dental office. It will help them as they make the transition from school to work,” said ODS Instructor Heidi Denton.

The health center, operated by the non-profit South County Health District, brought Bender aboard last December, following negotiations and then remodeling of the building to accommodate a dental clinic.

Earlier this year, ODS began talking with Bender and the district about bringing students out for practical experience. Denton said there were a lot of details to work out, but with both sides committed to making the program work, things went smoothly.

“The clinic staff has been wonderful to work with as we’ve set this up,” she said. “It’s been a pretty easy process, considering all that needed to be done. We’re very comfortable already. It feels like we’ve been here forever.”

Walt Brookshire of the health district board said the new program is part of an ongoing effort to provide a range of heath care services at an affordable price.

Beyond that, Brookshire said he thinks giving ODS students a chance to work at the center might in the long run help fill a local demand for qualified dental hygienists.

“If you train people at home, maybe they’ll stay at home,” he said.

At its dental hygiene school in La Grande, ODS offers a two-year course of study that yields an associates of applied science degree in dental hygiene. If students choose, they can continue with bachelor’s studies through the ODS school at the Oregon Institute of Technology.

The La Grande school, situated on Adams Avenue downtown, includes a clinic where students gain practical experience under the guidance of faculty and staff. 

The clinic is open to the public, and offers dental hygiene services at reduced cost. The arrangement is the same at Union.

“It’s a nice service for us to provide for people who live here. People can’t travel all the time,” said Academic Director Suzanne Hopper.

Bender said he thinks the program is a good addition for his clinic.

“Overall, I think it’s really good for the community. ODS offers high quality dental hygiene services at low cost. All the advantages apply here,” he said.

This year, the school at La Grande has 21 second-year students on its rolls. Every week, four students will rotate into service at the Union facility.

Hopper said that as the students improve their skills with hands-on work, faculty stands ready to help. The students can and do work independently, however.

“They’re far enough along to do the procedures, and we’ll be checking their work,” she said.

The program got under way last Thursday and will continue through the year. On the first day, students Jori Grady, Kristen Grenke, Hailey Davis and Deborah Koller all gained solid practical experience.

“I think it’s a good learning experience for us. We have our clinic at school, but it’s nice to be able to come out in the community and work,” said Koller.

Koller and Davis worked together on a cleaning in one of the dental clinic’s two exam rooms, while Grady and Grenke were paired with a patient next door.

Grady said she’s always thankful for the chance to have direct contact with patients.

“Once you’re working with people, it’s a key to learning,” she said.

Grenke said the Union clinic is well-equipped, and that she feels at home there.

“The facilities are really nice. It’s like our clinic in La Grande as far as what we’re doing,” she said.

Hopper said another opportunity for students to gain practical experience outside of school may be coming up soon. Talks are under way for a similar program at the family clinic in Elgin.

“We’ve looked that over, and I anticipate we’ll start rotations out there,” she said.

People wanting to schedule an appointment at the Union Family Health Center should call 541-562-6180.