- Associated Press - Saturday, August 30, 2014

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) - The low buzz of dental cleaning tools is a common sound at Lake Land Community College.

On the Mattoon campus, dental hygienist students try their trade on patients who want their teeth cleaned, polished and flossed at a low cost.

Students are required to follow a strict set of procedures, recording each step of the process. At four hours, the appointments take longer than traditional exams, but in some ways, it’s more thorough than a regular dental appointment.

“It’s a lot of paperwork, a lot of details, which is good,” said Jim Donnell, who was recruited as a patient by stepdaughter and student Felicia Kirkley. “Students learn through repetition.”

Donnell postponed a June appointment, knowing Kirkley needed to meet a patient quota for the summer semester.

As students became more practiced, the process becomes quicker.

“They don’t have to write down everything,” said Debbie Kirts-Thomason, the dental hygiene program director. “As they progress, they become more confident and efficient.”

The lab often serves low-income patients or those without dental insurance. Still, many others in the community come between their regular six-month cleanings to help the students.

“We are preparing the hygienists of the future and we would like to give them a variety of experiences,” Kirts-Thomason said.

The first mouth students ever work on in the 21-month program is a classroom typodont, a plastic anatomically correct model. Then they transition to family, friends and other patients for three semesters of clinical work. There, they learn chair-side manner.

“It’s different being in a human mouth,” said sophomore Anna Thacker.

The on-campus lab mirrors a regular dentist office, complete with a waiting room. Inside, 15 dental hygienist students clean their units and prep tools and paperwork before the patients come in at noon.

Students record a detailed medical history first, taking their patient’s blood pressure and asking if they use tobacco products along with dozens of other questions off a checklist.

A lot of the process requires the students to share oral health tips, like Skylee Taylor did with her aunt Jennifer Lappe of Greenville.

“It makes me feel like I’m educating them,” Taylor said.

It’s a common misconception that oral health isn’t connected to the rest of the body. Periodontal - or gum tissue - disease along with the bacteria and inflammation can lead and impact other medical issues.

“A lot of people don’t realize healthy gum tissue doesn’t bleed, Thacker said.

Patients will have a dental exam, cleaning, X-rays and fluoride treatments.

Like professional dental hygienists, they can’t make diagnoses, but they’ll note suspicious areas and point patients to a dentist. The same dentists know to refer patients to the clinic if they’re looking for extra cleaning or can’t afford the cost of regular visits.

Students are supervised by certified license dental professionals through every step of the process.

Every spring, students pick a patient for their final and most important examination - the board test for their license to practice.

Students of all ages get a discount price of $10, otherwise it costs $15. The fee covers a cleaning, any needed X-rays and any appointments needed to finish care. Panoramic X-rays are available with a dentist’s referral.

The clinic is open Monday through Thursday with morning and evening hours as well.

The clinic will also provide free dental care for children age 5 and younger as part of its “Dentist By 1” program Sept. 13. The exams can satisfy the mandatory dental screening for kindergarten students.

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Source: (Decatur) Herald & Review, http://bit.ly/1pGY242

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Information from: Herald & Review, http://www.herald-review.com

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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