Dental Hygiene

50 years and going strong -- Kruti Delvadia (left) and Tami Nguyen are two current Southern Illinois University Carbondale University dental hygiene students among hundreds of current and former students who will celebrate the program’s 50th anniversary, Oct. 14-15.  Delvadia, from Chicago, and Nguyen, from St. Louis, spent a month researching program history for a poster that will be part of an exhibit at the annual Dental Professionals Seminar on campus on Oct. 14. Nguyen is wearing a required uniform style that all aspiring dental hygiene students donned from the program’s inception in 1961 to the mid 1980s.  (Photo by Pete Rosenbery)

October 07, 2011

Dental Hygiene program marks 50th anniversary

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- While the technological advances and procedures have changed through the years, a constant in the success of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Dental Hygiene program remains its faculty and students.

As the program celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, the foundation established by Marilyn Paulk and Karl Webber in 1961 remains strong.

“The strength of our program is the faculty, each of whom have a wide range of interests and expertise,” said Dwayne G. Summers, the program director.  “It makes for a great learning atmosphere and provides our students the opportunity to gain a great deal of knowledge.”

The program celebrates its golden anniversary during SIU Carbondale Homecoming Weekend, Oct. 14-15, which will also coincide with the annual Dental Professionals Seminar.  The continuing education offering is Oct. 14, and will feature workshops on melting tooth syndrome, and “The Dental Hygienist in Veterinary Medicine.”  Linda Bohacek, a graduate of the University’s Dental Hygiene program, will present the workshop on preventative oral care for pets.  She is a clinical dental hygienist and human resource assistant at Oakwood Hills Animal Hospital in Eau Claire, Wis.

The program began in 1961 with two faculty members -- a dentist and dental hygienist -- and 12 students at the University’s campus in Carterville.  The first graduating class was in 1963.  The program moved to the Carbondale campus in 1978, and was elevated to a bachelor’s degree program in 1997, Summers said.

The program is part of the School of Allied Health within the College of Applied Sciences and Arts.

“The dental hygiene program has a long and proud tradition in the College of Applied Sciences and Arts and is highly regarded by the dental care profession,” said Terry W. Owens, interim dean.  “The faculty and staff are committed to providing students with an exceptional education experience.”

The program is “truly a valuable asset” to the college, University, and Southern Illinois, said Owens, noting that faculty, staff and students operate the Community Dental Center and dental sealant program, “which exemplify an outstanding record of community service dedicated to providing dental care to underserved populations throughout the region.”

Charla J. Lautar, professor and director of the School of Allied Health, said the program remains “innovative and recognized for its community outreach activities.”

Recruited from working as a dental hygienist with Dr. V.A. Beadle, a private practice dentist in Carbondale, Paulk recalls the program’s early years. There were 47 dental hygiene schools in the nation at the time, and the University’s program was the first in Illinois outside of a dental school setting, she said.

Paulk recalls teaching fine motor skills and the difficult early years, which included gaining accreditation from the American Dental Association’s Council on Dental Education.  The concern wasn’t with what students were learning, but that the program was outside of a dental school setting, she said.

Paulk, formerly of West Frankfort, left the University in 1966 for family considerations and returned to SIU Carbondale in 1975.  It was during that time over an eight-year period into the early 1980s that the program utilized a $250,000 federal grant and equipped two Airstream trailers to visit local communities in the region where there were no dentists.  The program visited local schools and provided dental services in rural communities to adults and children.  The practical experience the students received was an important learning tool in helping them in their future practice settings, she said.

“It opened them up to practicing in rural communities,” said Paulk, who now lives in Woodstock, Ga., and will return for the anniversary celebration.  Some of the previous faculty, including Debbie Rinehart, who taught from 1965 to 1967, will also attend, Paulk said.

Paulk notes the progressive and dedicated faculty “that is always striving to improve the quality of education.”  Her fondest experiences was the “one-on-one” education with the students, she said, noting that several former program graduates now teach at SIU Carbondale, direct their own programs, or went on to dental school.

“The contact with the students has always been close to my heart,” she said.  “I’m proud of the graduates and to see what they are doing and accomplishing in improving the dental health of their patients and communities.”

The program is the oldest dental hygiene school in existence in Illinois, and of 13 dental hygiene programs in the state, is the only one to offer a bachelor’s degree, “which is a big selling point for us,” Summers said. 

There have been 12 program coordinators or directors through 50 years.

Summers, a West Frankfort native, earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from SIU Carbondale in 1992, and doctor of dental medicine from the SIU School of Dental Medicine in Alton in 1996.  Summers was in private practice for five years before coming to the University in 2001.  After three years as the program’s interim director, Summers became director in July 2006.

There are 107 students in the program this semester, he said.

“The students are the strength of our program,” said Ronda DeMattei, an associate professor who has been with the program for 30 years.

“We have awesome students,” DeMattei said.  “They are compassionate, caring and committed to their education.  The curriculum is, and always has been rigorous and demanding.  Each year we get a new class and it is amazing to watch them transform from tentative second-year students into confident and competent professionals.  That’s the best part of the program.”

Dental hygienists do far more than clean patients’ teeth.  Their role has expanded into educating patients about periodontal disease and excellent dental care.  Dental hygienists now also provide anesthetic injections and perform patient X-rays, and can become an important first step in helping people stop smoking and detecting oral cancer, Summers said.  Approximately 45 minutes of a patient’s one-hour dental visit is spent with the dental hygienist, he added.

“A lot of patients really depend on the expertise of the hygienist to help them understand better the treatment the dentist will come and talk to them about,” he said.

An important factor of the University’s program is the significant increase in clinical experience hours that students earn in a four-year program in comparison to a community college setting, Summers said.  Students will receive 950 hours of clinical experience at SIU Carbondale compared with an average of 705 hours at a community college, he said.

The additional hours and a bachelor’s degree give program graduates a much greater competitive advantage when it comes to jobs, Summers said.  Students are able to broaden their potential job offerings to include research opportunities, other health care fields, dental hygiene instruction, dental school, dental hygiene and sales, Summers said.

“Our students, graduates and alumni sell our program.  That speaks volumes for the program’s success,” he said.