Utah Tech’s dental hygiene program brings success to students and community

Hannah Colson, a senior dental hygiene major from Sandy, and Rylee Udom, a senior dental hygiene major from Grantsville, and many others in the dental hygiene program allow students to learn through hands-on techniques, and they get to practice in the community at the Russell C. Taylor Health Science Building on Medical Center Drive. The off-campus clinic offers students a discounted price for teeth cleaning, X-rays, whitening and other dental needs. Miki Akiyama | Sun News Daily

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The Utah Tech University dental hygiene program has been serving smiles for more than 25 years. 

The first class for the program was accepted in 1998, and since then, the program has had a 100% passing rate for licensing boards. 

It is a two-year program that will result in students graduating with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. There are mandatory courses in the program such as radiology, tooth morphology and multiple different clinic labs. 

Cindy Clark, associate academic adviser for the College of Health Sciences, is the person pre-dental students go to for help getting into the dental hygiene program. 

Clark registers incoming freshmen and ensures they are in courses that provide a strong foundation for the dental program. She builds a connection with these students early on because she is a Trailblazer Connections instructor for pre-dental hygiene students.

As an adviser, she meets with these students every semester to make sure they are staying on track and aligning their class schedules with their ambitions to get into the program. When things don’t go as planned, Clark handles the “hiccups” along the way for these students. 

Clark said: “When things get to be difficult, they know they can always come and visit with me to get some advice… I’m their biggest cheerleader. I share in their joy when they find out they’ve been accepted to the program.”

To get into the program, students apply each year as sophomores going into their junior year, and the application has a $50 fee for first-time applicants and a $25 fee for re-applicants. 

Each year, 24 new students are accepted into the program, which makes a total of 48 students consisting of juniors and seniors. 

In order for students to become licensed oral health professionals, they have to pass a national written exam and clinics demonstrating proficiency during college. Students then apply to the state they wish to work for. 

Brenda Armstrong, associate professor of dental hygiene and department chair, said the clinic aspect of the program is purely for student training, and students receive no money to participate. Students appoint their own patients. However, all care is supervised by a faculty-registered dental hygienist. There is also a dentist at the clinic to act as a consultant. 

Armstrong said, “The win-win is that students are receiving a great education while treating patients that often lack access to oral health care.” 

The clinic includes services such as oral health screenings, deep cleanings, X-rays, fluoride treatments and teeth whitening. 

Prices for the clinic range from $5 -$40 depending on the service and is located at 1526 Medical Center Drive in St. George. 

The clinic is open during the fall semester on Tuesdays and Thursdays and the spring semester Monday through Friday. 

Brooklyn Field, a junior dental hygiene major from Morgan, said the program itself is very hands-on with difficult lectures and multiple exams every week. During the clinics, students learn the instrumentation and hard skills of being a hygienist. She said it’s very time-intensive and students learn a lot in a short amount of time. 

Field has wanted to go into the dental field since she was in seventh grade and has known it is something she would enjoy. She plans on working in a private practice as a dental hygienist when she graduates but is also interested in becoming a traveling hygienist. Ultimately, she wants to be an orthodontist. 

Her advice to anyone applying to be in the program is to be 100% sure it is something you want to do because getting into the program is only the beginning. 

“Being in this program is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but I know it’ll be worth it,” Field said. 

She added that new students applying for the program should give themselves grace, work hard, but don’t be too harsh on yourself over a bad grade because it all works out in the end. 

Field’s favorite aspect of the program is the bond between the collective 24 students. She said her class has an amazing bond, and having 23 other people know what classes you’re in, have the same schedule and learn the exact same things creates a relatable environment that is “unexplainably amazing.”

“I love the other girls in my class so much,” Field said. “We have truly all [become] best friends and I know they’re always there for me.”