Dental hygiene program ahead of most

Youngstown State University is now the second university in the state to accept students into a four-year dental hygiene program.

Faculty members in the dental hygiene department, which is contained within the Bitonte College of Health and Human Services, began developing the program in 2009. The Ohio Board of Regents approved the program in 2011.

Since then, students have had the opportunity to work through the program’s prerequisites. The first group of students will be accepted within the next few weeks.

Kellie Mills-Dobozi, an academic adviser for the Bitonte College, said about 70 students are vying for positions in the program.

“[They’re] very excited, but also very nervous,” Mills-Dobozi said of students who see her for advising. In spring, the first batch of four-year dental hygiene students will begin coursework in the bachelor’s degree track, and YSU will no longer offer the associate degree.

“I think it’s really great,” said Sarella Gustovich, a second-year dental hygiene student. “I’m jealous, myself, because for me, this is my fourth year at YSU, and I’m getting an associate degree in dental hygiene.”

Madeleine Haggerty, the director of the dental hygiene program; three other professors; the program’s chair; and the Bitonte College dean developed the curriculum, syllabi and coursework to bring the program to YSU.

Haggerty said students in the associate program would often go to school for three or more years and still graduate with only a two-year degree.

“I’ve always felt that it should be a four-year program,” Haggerty said. “We felt that it was just a slight change, and our students would get a four-year degree.”

Haggerty said the new program will require more dental hygiene clinical space for students to work in.

Since the program’s approval, Haggerty said she has been developing policies, as well as scheduling and preparing for the construction of a second dental hygiene clinic.

The two-year dental hygiene program had only 48 students at any given time, and much of the students’ time is spent in the dental hygiene clinic in Cushwa Hall.

The new program will have three classes of 24 students, which will require more clinic space that is being built into a classroom across the hall.

Haggerty said she hopes the second clinic will be completed in the spring, but said construction may continue until the summer of 2013.

Haggerty estimated that students in the program see anywhere from 800 to 900 people a year in the dental hygiene clinic. All appointments are free.

The new space will not immediately allow for more community teeth-cleaning appointments, though. Before finalizing the program, Haggerty said she and her collaborators sought feedback from community dentists and past graduates; they received positive responses to a four-year program.

“I’m excited that it’s happening in Youngstown, and [it’s] only the second one in the state of Ohio,” Haggerty said.

Ohio State University is the only other school in Ohio that offers a similar program.

Haggerty added that students with a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene could gain employment in public health or by dental product companies. Teaching and researching are other career possibilities.

The four-year program offers more time in the dental hygiene clinic and breaks coursework into more classes with greater detail than the two-year program.

Students are now required to take 14 prerequisite courses before applying for the restricted program. Mills-Dobozi said that students, if accepted, will have more clinical experience, including training on how to perform simple dental procedures like tooth extractions and simple fillings.

Gustovich said she had only one prerequisite for admittance into the associate degree program.

No new positions are needed for the new program, but Haggerty said she hopes to add more professors in the future.