USD’s dental hygiene program offers dental cleanings to students and community members for a reduced rate, giving students the opportunity to put their coursework into action.
Erica Carrels, a senior dental hygiene major, said juniors in their spring semester and seniors get the chance to work on actual patients by providing a full cleaning, x-rays and fluoride treatments. However, since they’re still learning and faculty looks over every detail of the cleanings, the appointments can take a while.
“Sometimes as juniors, we’re just starting off on our spring semester, that’s when we’re beginning our first cleanings, so it will take around four hours or longer,” Carrels said. “So not a lot of students have that in their time but then we can split up the appointments, which is really good. As a senior, you’re more advanced so it might only take two hours or two and a half to three.”
Carrels said with certain insurances, you can get the cleanings for free, but otherwise, it’s $45.
Erik Mutterer, an assistant professor and head of the clinics, said the cleanings offered by the students are a good route for many people.
“If someone doesn’t have dental insurance, it will honestly save them quite a deal of money to come here. It’s just basically exchanging time for the money aspect of it,” Mutterer said.
Mutterer said these cleanings are required for the dental hygiene students if they want to become licensed dental hygienists. To graduate on time, he said they have to have 16 clinic hours per week. Because of this, cancellations can affect their grades.
“They have to have the hours, so I can’t fabricate a patient for them because that is part of their licensing,” Mutterer said. “Cancellations for us is not that we’re losing money, it’s actually that they’re losing the ability to get a chance to graduate on time. So they usually have somebody that they think of as far as a backup. We encourage them to make a list of people they could call last minute and get them in.”
Carrels said as a senior she is allowed to miss three appointments, but beyond that, she’ll receive a zero.
“I mean, I’d love make-up appointments, but there’s not enough time,” Carrels said. “The faculty tries their best to fit everyone in and now as a senior, we’re rotating.”
Brooke Hubbert, a senior dental hygiene major, said she thinks the regulations are important.
“There are regulations and we have to get a patient count in order to stay eligible and get our degree,” Hubbert said. “But it does kind of stink when someone backs out randomly.”
Hubbert said she would like to see more students utilized the low-rate cleanings.
“To have that support from our university would be amazing,” Hubbert said. “If a patient doesn’t show up we get a zero but there’s patients here on campus who can show up and will show up.”
There are 32 students in each of the junior and senior classes and eight different clinics. Senior dental hygiene students get the opportunity to rotate to the different clinics.
“We have a Sioux Falls clinic and they’ll be working with restorative aspects up there,” Mutterer said. “Then we go into the prison systems, we have Native American health as well (in) Winnebago, and then we have a portal unit, or a mobile unit, (that will) go to elementary schools and nursing homes.”
Hubbert said she likes the diversity the rotations bring.
“I don’t think there is any program, that I know of, that is this diverse in their rotations. I think that’s pretty cool that we get to do all that.”
Carrels said balancing her clinic hours and schoolwork can be struggling, but she thinks the program is one of the best ones on campus.
“I love talking so I like getting to meet the patients,” Carrels said. “I’ve had a Santa Claus impersonator come in and give me his card, he also carved me a wooden pen. I’ve had women come in with cookies and treats and giving them to me. Just hearing their life stories and the advice they’re giving me on top of it, I think that’s the coolest experience.”