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Graduates of Central Carolina Community College’s Dental Hygiene program have a lot to smile about

Posted Wednesday, May 27, 2009

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Sanford, N.C. – Graduates of Central Carolina Community College’s Dental Hygiene program have a lot to smile about.

The 10 women and one man are the first in the college’s history to receive Associate in Applied Science degrees in Dental Hygiene. They were awarded during the college’s May 14 graduation exercises.

The graduates are also smiling because all passed their National Board Exam for Dental Hygiene on the first try – an impressive 100 percent passing rate on the grueling nine-hour test.

“I feel very prepared for my future,” said graduate Kristina Harwell, of Sanford. “The instructors really prepared us well.”

The other graduates agreed as they looked back on five semesters of intense study and hands-on training in the anatomy and physiology of teeth, as well as becoming skilled in carrying out procedures such as x-raying, scaling, root planning, fluoride treatments and more. They learned well.

“These students have been pioneers for our college,” said Vicky Wesner, Dental Hygiene program director. “They have been patient and diligent with their efforts to reach their goals. Words can’t describe how excited our faculty is, especially that we had 100 percent on the National Board.”

Those who graduated in the first Dental Hygiene class are Whitney Cox, Kristina Harwell, Jennifer Neal, Dana Satterfield, and Mark Williamson, all of Sanford; Stephanie Beckwith, of Pittsboro; Lisa Fitzgibbon, of Lillington; Brook Lemons, of Siler City; Melissa Long, of Angier; Samantha Mangum, of Fuquay-Varina; and Haley Cox, of Ramseur.

In June, the graduates will take their state-level clinical test to receive their license to practice in North Carolina.

Looking back, one thing that will stay with them is the memory of the people they helped. Community members would come to the Dental Center, located at the W.B. Wicker Business Campus, and the dental hygiene students would provide x-rays, cleaning and the other services they had learned for free.

A highlight for the students was “Give Kids A Smile,” a national service project of the American Dental Association’s Children’s Dental Health Month in February. Locally, volunteer dentists came to the Dental Center and worked with dental hygiene students in screening children’s teeth and applying sealant. The students also did a follow-up tooth-brushing activity with the children at their school.

“It felt good to help little kids,” said graduate Brooke Lemons, of Siler City. “Everybody needs to have a healthy mouth.”

Central Carolina Community College established the Dental Program as part of its mission to provide workforce training for business and industry in its service area of Chatham, Harnett and Lee counties. Back in 2005, it surveyed dental practices in those counties, as well as in Moore County, to determine the need for dental workers.

The survey indicated an additional 68 hygienists and 92 assistants would be needed within four years. On the basis of this workforce need assessment, the State Board of the North Carolina Community College System authorized the college to offer a Dental Program for hygienists and assistants. Classes started in the summer of 2007. Dental Assisting graduated its first class in spring 2008.

The newly renovated W.B. Wicker School, renamed the W.B. Wicker Business Campus, was selected as the site for the program. It was also the home of the Lee County Public Health Dental Clinic, but that facility closed in 2009.

The planned collaboration between the college and Lee County Public Health in working to meet the dental health needs made it possible to raise the money needed to develop and equip the college’s program.

More than $1 million in grants was raised through the college’s Grants Office: $298,809 from the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, $270,595 from the NC Community College System’s Allied Health Grant Fund, $223,006 from GoldenLEAF Inc., $25,000 from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation; and $2,800 from the N.C. Dental Society’s Dental Health Endowment. The Duke Endowment awarded a $250,505 grant to Lee County Public Health.

The college’s dental program has all-digital patient records, 12 patient chairs, panoramic and regular x-ray machines, hands-free sterilization area and other state-of-the-art equipment. It is accredited by the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation.

The Dental Program will continue to expand and improve, said Pam Wells, Dental Hygiene instructor. The college has hired a dentist, who will teach oral pathology, pharmacology and help train students in their clinicals.

For more information on Central Carolina Community College’s Dental Assisting or Dental Hygiene programs, call (919) 775-2122 or visit the college’s web site.

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Graduates of Central Carolina Community College’s Dental Hygiene program have a lot to smile about
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