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Student dental hygiene clinic seeks patients

MONTGOMERY - Cortney Tinnel had her fingers inside her fiance's mouth. She was poking around in there, too, gently jabbing at his teeth and gums.

That fiance, Elijah Thompson, wasn't resisting, but with a piece of plastic propping his mouth open, it's not like he had much choice.

Tinnel was working in the Dental Hygiene Clinic at Bridgemont Community and Technical College. She is studying to be a dental hygienist, and an aspiring dental hygienist needs patients to practice on.

"He was pretty tough to get in here," she said. "But he knows it's helping me out."

Each semester, the class of dental hygiene students at Bridgemont must work on a number of patients to fulfill their graduation requirements and to help the school remain accredited. 

They often end up dragging in their family and friends for things like oral examinations, periodontal therapy and ultrasonic scaling. It's not required that their patients enjoy the experience, just that they're dentist's office-level comfortable and can put up with having free dental work.

It doesn't have to be this way, though.

The clinic is open to the public, and all services are free. Instead of using their friends and family to practice on so often, the students and faculty at the clinic would rather bring in more community members - people who need the care for free.

"No one provides truly free care but us," said Michelle Klenk, Bridgemont's chairwoman for dental hygiene. "And I don't think the patients who need this aren't out there, just that they don't know to come to us."

Students at the clinic can provide dental hygiene services - namely preventive care that can be difficult to afford without insurance but is key in a patient's dental health plan.

Klenk is emphatic in her insistence that the treatment isn't comprehensive, but one part of a larger puzzle. But it does cut costs, and it can act as an intervention for people who aren't taking care of their teeth.

"What we're finding now is middle-aged couples who had good dental care for years and lost their jobs . . . or younger people who had it as kids and can't afford it anymore," Klenk said.

In both of those cases, patients need dental care to ward off serious problems, and health care professionals want to foster a "culture of prevention." Appointments often include nutritional counseling and instructions on caring for teeth.

The dental hygiene students at Bridgemont work under a few registered dental hygienists and one dentist. Patients can receive a slew of preventive services there (though not extractions, fillings, dentures or crowns, among some other things), all for free.

It does take a little longer than a normal trip to the dentist.

Patients should expect to spend three hours at the clinic for each session (the extra time allows for all the checking and double-checking the instructors do to ensure proper care).

Patients can schedule an appointment immediately, or arrange to come in for a screening appointment to offset the time they have to spend in the office for their first appointment, and help match them to a student best suited to their needs.

To schedule an appointment, call 304-734-6651.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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