dental hygiene students practicing their skills

(Above, from left) Saebyeol Kang and Mary Thomas receive laser instruction from a Heartland Dental University laser trainer. (Photo by Russell Bailey) (Below) The 2024 senior class of dental hygiene students celebrate their success with Jennifer Sherry, dental hygiene professor, at far right. (Photo provided)

April 26, 2024

SIU dental hygiene students get specialized laser, community dentistry certifications

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The Southern Illinois University Carbondale students were amazed and excited as they aimed their lasers for the first time at chicken wings, carrots, tomatoes and hot dogs. The tasty treats were actually tools the senior dental hygiene students were using to earn a special laser certification.

The students, who will graduate in May, tested the intensity of the various types of lasers, using them on foodstuffs of differing textures and thicknesses to simulate what they will encounter when they treat the tissues in their future patients’ mouths. The lasers are useful in treating oral ulcers and other conditions by killing bacteria around the teeth and in the mouth to promote healing.

This is the second year SIU has offered dental hygiene students the opportunity to participate in the optional laser training for a special certification, said Jennifer S. Sherry, dental hygiene professor in the School of Health Sciences. Sherry and Stacey McKinney, assistant professor and program director for dental hygiene, coordinated the all-day laser training event. They expressed appreciation to Heartland Dental University and laser trainers Yolanda Cox, Adandra Torres-Martin, Shannon Krajczar, Ashley Greco and Jennifer Kistner, Ultradent for providing lasers, as well as the Academy of Laser Dentistry (ALD) for sponsoring the laser event and training the students for a nominal fee.

Enhancing student marketability

Fifteen students participated in the laser certification course, and they will find it beneficial whether they work in clinical practice or in a public health setting, Sherry said.

The laser training is not the only additional credential SIU makes available to Salukis. All SIU dental hygiene students also earn the community dental health coordinator (CDHC) certification.

Each student completes approximately 120 hours of modules during their junior and senior years. SIU students are one of just two groups in the state to complete the nine-month online CDHC certification, and the university offers the state’s only baccalaureate dental hygiene program, which is accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

All of these things really set SIU’s program and its graduates apart, according to Sherry, who has served as the faculty coordinator for the CDHC program since it began on campus.

“SIU’s dental hygiene students have a very high job placement rate,” Sherry said.

She said the CDHC certification training, which was developed by the American Dental Association, enables students to better understand the issues community health providers encounter with their patients and how to communicate and assess their overall needs more effectively.

“It is critical for community members in every city across the country to have access to quality oral health care, and this certificate positions our graduates to provide these services to patients who might not otherwise receive them,” Sherry said.

The students received their CDHC certificates in a special presentation on April 23, and they will graduate with bachelor’s degrees in dental hygiene during the 9 a.m. commencement ceremony on May 11.

Saluki hygienists

The 2024 dental hygiene graduating seniors and CDHC recipients, listed by hometown, with those who also earned the laser certificate starred (*):


Arlington Heights: McKell Cottrell *

Bartlett: Shannon Martin *

Benton: Adyson Erwin *

Cambridge: Lilly Kessinger *

Carbondale: Aisha Ruperto

Carpentersville: Itzel Martinez *

Chicago: Ahzure Turner

Edwardsville: Raegan Toombs *

Franklin Park: Nicole Mora

Geneseo: Mary Thomas *

Goreville: Kelsey Daniels

Jonesboro: Maggie DeLashmutt

Mendon: Alyssa Steinkamp *

Millstadt: Alexa Scheibel

Nashville: Sarah Staley *

Orland Park: Meghan Torpy *

Plainfield: Abbi Batara

Sandwich: Emily Siemek *

Williamsville: Hannah Truax *


Tampa: Arianna Robinson * 


Marion: Sharon Collins *


Bloomfield: Lilly Hector

Scott City: Heather Keesee

St. Louis: Kendra Davis


Kenosha: Madison Harrison

Republic of Korea

Daejeon: Saebyeol Kang *

For additional details

To learn more about SIU’s dental hygiene program, visit the website. SIU also offers a Bachelor of Science degree online completion option in dental hygiene management and education, designed for working dental hygienists who have associate degrees. Find out more online.