YSU dental hygiene program nationally ranked at No. 16

The dental hygiene program allows students to gain experience on actual patients.

By Shianna Gibbons 

The dental hygiene program at Youngstown State University was ranked No. 16 in the nation by Healthcare Administration Degree Programs. In order for the dental hygiene students to graduate, they must provide many services to YSU students and community members for free.

The ranking was based on average SAT scores, student retention rates, career pay and other factors. Jennifer Pieren, the program’s administrator, said she is proud of the dental hygiene program.

“We have extraordinarily dedicated faculty and students. We worked hard, and it was good to be recognized,” Pieren said. “YSU is on that list with other well-known universities, and we were thrilled.”

Multiple elements contribute to what makes YSU’s dental program exceptional, Pieren said, such as offering a bachelor’s degree instead of an associate’s degree and the competitiveness of the program. Only 24 students a year are selected, Pieren said, and these students must have the best grades, performance and applications. 

“Every year, students apply and we look at those applications as a whole, and [acceptance] is based on their grades,” Pieren said. “We look at their pre-dental hygiene and science courses specifically, then at their GPA overall.” 

Savanna Penezich, a senior dental hygiene major, said the competitiveness continues after being selected for the program.

“Even the program now is competitive. We challenge ourselves every single day to take the best care of our patients and to treat them the best we can in a short amount of time,” Penezich said.

Located in Cushwa Hall are two patient treatment operatories with a waiting room. The operatories are equipped with radiology units, sterilization rooms and a dental delivery unit. Each operator has dental chairs, dental tools and computers with dental software.

Pieren said the students use these clinics to practice what they learn in lectures on patients. YSU dental hygiene students are required to see at least 43 patients, all with varying levels of dental hygiene needs, in order to graduate.

Pieren said the services provided to patients are high-quality and checked over by licensed faculty members.

“We provide oral prophylaxis [dental cleanings], fluoride, dental x-rays, patient education and local anesthesia,” Pieren said. “It is not only learning but it is quality control. We [provide] the best practices here.”

Daunisha Lude, a senior dental hygiene major, said the services are great resources for the community.

“[Dental hygiene services] can help close the gap in the dental hygiene disparities,” Lude said. “Not too many people in the area can afford dental hygiene care, and if we can try to close that gap, we can help more people.”

Caleb Ellison, a sophomore telecommunications major, said the free services are beneficial for students, too.

“As an out-of-state student, I don’t have a chance to see my normal dentist that often,” Ellison said. “It is even better [than a normal dentist] because it is teaching me what to do to take better care of my mouth.”

However, dental hygiene students are experiencing trouble finding patients. Lude said this could be because of COVID-19.

“A lot of people were scared to come back, especially in this type of setting, where you are working in someone’s mouth all day,” Lude said. “Slowly, it has started to pick back up. We make sure [the patients] are safe.”

Pieren said the dental hygiene program was prepared in some ways for the pandemic and has adjusted precautions to mitigate the spread of aerosols and provide care safely.

“We received [COVID-19-related] funding to add extra layers of protection for more personal protective equipment as well as extraoral suction units,” Pieren said. “I hope that our patients know they are safe coming here, and we do everything to make sure everyone is safe.”