This past May, Howard Community College in Columbia, Maryland held a commencement ceremony for its first ever dental hygiene program graduates. The program was rolled out initially in the fall of 2014 to a class of 12 students. Only three other community colleges in the state of Maryland offer such a program. There are 300 such programs offered across the United States.
The program focuses on experiential learning to prepare students to handle real patients. Students will begin in simulation laboratories by practicing on mannequins, progressing to students and then volunteer patients at the Dental Hygiene Center. Students will have the opportunity to work with a minimum of 50 patient volunteers during the course of the program.
Laurie Stuart, one of the students from the first graduating class, found the opportunity to work with patient volunteers rewarding. One particular volunteer that left an impression on her was a man who was uncomfortable smiling because of the condition of his teeth. After completing an examination and hygiene treatment, Stuart educated him on proper oral care. The man, she says, was transformed into a happier and more confident person, who was no longer embarrassed about his appearance.
Rosemary Lee found the patient volunteers to be inspiring during her time in the dental hygiene program. “I’ve been able to help patients who would not have been able to access dental hygiene otherwise,” she said. The Dental Hygiene Center provides oral care to low-income patients who could otherwise not afford it.
The program’s popularity has grown tremendously since it rolled out, with almost 150 student applications for just 16 slots. Dental hygienists are among the 30 fastest growing careers with an expected eight year growth rate of 19% as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.