San Juan Dental Hygiene Students Practice on “Live” Patients

January 27, 2010–Farmington Daily Times–Alysa Landry–A tray of intimidating silver balanced near Sandra Antonson’s hand Tuesday as the first-year dental hygiene student leaned over one of her first clients. Antonosn, a first-year student in San Juan College’s Dental Hygiene program is one of only 12 students accepted per year. Students spend the first semester of the program in the classroom, where they practice on mannequins and fellow students, said Julius Manz, director of the program. During the second semester, which started this month, students begin work on “live” patients. The task was relatively easy for Antonson, whose second patient was her husband, Ryan Antonson. “I can see it both ways,” she said of Ryan’s position in the dental chair. “It’s nerve-wriacking to work on him, but he’s doing a lot better now that we’ve numbed his gums.” Ryan who visited the clinic in the college’s Health and Human Performance Center, got a deep cleaning Tuesday. Although his gums were numb, he smiled and joked with his wife during the procedure. The atmosphere was decidedly less cheery at Lisa Jenning’s station. Her patient was State Police Lt. Gary Ross, who needed X-rays and a cleaning. “This is my second day to have actually patients.” Jennings said. “It’s scary.” Ross, a first-time patient the clinic who was dressed in uniform, assured Jennings he did not carry a Taser. The clinic, open Tuesday through Thursday every week, caters to any patients who need cleanings or other preventive work. Students in the two-year program practice on customers’ mouths, charging a fraction of what they would pay elsewhere. Manz, one of three dentists to work with students in the program, also offers some in-depth work. Usually, however, the clinic provides diagnoses and refers patients to dentist or orthodontists in the community. “Students do the preventive stuff,” Manz said. “The goal is to train dental hygienists, but we can provide a full diagnosis.” The two-year program is competitive, with only 24 seats available, Manz said. Every year, more than 50 students apply, but only 12 are accepted. Before graduating from the program, students must demonstrate aptitude in handling many different types of patients, from screaming children to difficult oral conditions, Manz said. Students who really want to be dental hygienists don’t’ miss a beat, however. Antonson, who applied for the program because it offered a career that let her choose her hours, said she enjoys looking in other people’s mouths. “Mouths don’t bother me,” she said while looking up from her husband’s procedure. “I get to see a lot of interesting things.” The dental students also host an annual Give Kids A Smile Day. Children ages 5 to 12 can receive free dental or orthodontist work Feb. 5 at the clinic. Dental students and community dentists will see about 50 children that day, and they are expected to complete about $50,000 in free work.

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