We were all there. Lying on our backs. Some were lucky enough to get sweet sunglasses to lessen the harsh light above their head. Drills whizzing in the background send dental horrors running through the head of anyone in ear shot of them. Before we were able to get up and bolt out of the office someone would walk in, clip what looked and felt like a paper towel around your neck, smile, and say "open wide".
The American Dental Hygienist' Association describes a dental hygienist as a "licensed oral health professional who focuses on preventing and treating oral disease". This includes not only just the teeth and gums within in the mouth, but also the entire well being of a patient as a whole. In order to become licensed as a dental hygienist however, the road is long. The road is hard.
No one knows this truth better than the ones that willing place themselves in a position where the likely hood of completing all the school work and programs required take only a few years less than becoming a full fledge dentist.
At Lake Superior College in Duluth, one of the many dental hygienist programs allows only twenty students in a year. Twenty. Out of almost six hundred students; every semester.
My room mate moved from the major of photography, to dental hygiene. If that switch wasn't enough, her amount of schooling almost doubled and she was forced to transfer colleges. Her first year and a half there went smoothly. She was able to get her A.A. degree, which is more or less half of a bachelor degree.
After than she applied to get on the coveted wait list for the dental hygiene program. The wait time: two years. She figured to return to UMD and get a second degree in community health education which she is currently pursuing. By next spring she hopes to have a letter in the mail letting her know she has been accepted.
And if not...then what? What are students who are pursuing a particular degree or job supposed to do when they have completed everything they have had to and just nee to be accepted into a specific program or school? Not only that what happens when the time spent on the list becomes longer then what the people letting you on say it will be?
Bethany Bergstad is a first year student in the dental hygiene program at LSC. She was on the list for two and a half years before being accepted into the program.
"It just took that long; I started taking pre-requisites in high school and then took the first semester in college to finish them" Bergstad says.
Bergstad sits at a chair in the one classroom in the dental hygiene building. She opens a drawer and pulls out a metal jaw.
"We have assigned seats and we are in here all day. Oh the teachers rotate and change, but we stay in here."
She opens the metal jaw and explains that this is what the students use in order to practice their fillings and figure out what tooth goes where. The typodont (the metal mouth) is what all the dental hygiene students begin their training on. The typodont she is handling has two different types of fillings in it. One is a composite filling and is tooth colored. The other is a enamel filling and is made of metal. She mounts the fake mouth onto a pole and tightens it with a screw.
"And then..."she says while reaching towards a mannequin like head "you can attach this head to it and put like lips on it; makes it more realistic as to what a person would be like."
We don't go to a real clinic after the classroom. Real in the sense that this clinic is sectioned into cubicles and not separate rooms. Real in the fact that the patients in the chairs more than likely know the person working in their mouth as they are either a relative or close friend. Real in the sense that all the working age people seem to be watching more than doing anything.
"Six weeks ago we were working on each other in the classroom" she is nervous because in a few weeks they will return to the classroom to learn a new aspect of dentistry: Novocain.
The instructors mill about the room, some are wandering between the main cleaning room and the x-ray lab, while others are sitting next to the students and the patient, watching and critiquing.
"We also have local doctors that volunteer their time to come watch and critique us." Bergstad says. Each patient that is worked on has paper work and not just the simple here is how your teeth are paper work. Every patient must be documented through at least twelve different forms. Each side of ever paper must be filled out.
"The whole process takes about four hours" Bergstad says.
Think about being in a dentists chair for four hours. Usually people freak out with it's longer than forty-five minutes; four hours? And not only that, the person that is inside your mouth for the majority of this time is more than likely a friend or relative that is learning the trade. Four hours?
"First years bring in their own subjects and work on them" Brittany says. She says second year students work on potential strangers when doing their cleanings. Also as first years cleaning time can take the full four hours. Within a year thought the time must be cut down to just over one. By the time they graduate and are potentially working in a dental office: average cleaning should be MAYBE one hour.
Sara Ringold is a second year in the program. When asked about her experience getting put on and getting off the list to get into the program she simply says "it was an experience" and doesn't dive into any further detail.
"Let me just say I was on the list for three years. Once you're in though it's a lot of work and takes a lot of dedication; but it's fun."
Kelsey Janz has big things coming up in her life. Graduation in the spring is quickly followed by her marrying her high school sweetheart. She's excited for these next big steps in her life, but is still waiting on another.
"I just talked with my dental hygiene advisor and she said for sure I am not in the 2010 class and it's a little to early to tell for the 2011 class."
This is even a better outlook then before when it looked like Janz wouldn't get into the program until 2013. "People drop out or get into different programs."
But Janz, like many of the students on the waiting list, isn't just biding her time while on the list. Nor is this the only list she is on or plans to be on. Her dental hygiene pre-requisites were completed so she could get on that waiting list. Her next step is to get a Bachelors degree for dental school and then get on that wait list.
"Hopefully by the time I get onto the dental school waitlist I will have gotten into the LSC dental hygiene program; the estimated time for me to get in to the other wait list is 2014. They're bad everywhere."
So why are these lists so bad? How and who decides what gets you into these programs in order to get out and get going with a career?
So my story is far from complete but I am quickly learning the importance of not trying to fit everything from every interview into this writing piece. I feel like every little piece is important but as Sam Cook said, it might kill us to cut it, but that's a good thing.