The Vermont Technical College Department of Dental Hygiene has added external rotations into our curriculum.  It began two years ago with a rotation up to the UVM Medical Center Children’s Specialty Hospital.  Once a week, four of the third year dental hygiene students go up to the Children’s Specialty hospital to provide oral health education, risk assessment, fluoride varnish treatments, lists of participating dentists with the in-patients on the children’s floor.  There are many discussions that center around the importance of the first dental visit being 6 months after the eruption of the first tooth or by age 1, along with the importance of wiping the gums after feeding, bacterial transmission between the primary caregiver/child and the importance of fluoride topical and systemic – supplementation where necessary – sharing the VDH Fluoride test forms.  We also meet with patients that have acute injury or illness and chronic disease and disability.  Students focus on how the myriad of medications and level of disease may impact their oral health or their ability to provide thorough homecare. More importantly, students learn to meet patients where they are, some days a very uplifting and rewarding and others are challenging and thought provoking.  We always encourage them to learn about the patients that they are working with that day, but to also learn something about themselves and to push outside of our comfort zone to help themselves to grow. Some will ask, if the hospital is the best place for dental hygienists, since many patients are not there for oral health related diagnoses.  What we do as dental hygienists is so much more than “cleaning” teeth.  We are essential primary healthcare providers that specialize in oral health with an emphasis on prevention and disease maintenance.

In the Fall of 2017, we began our direct services rotation at (Essex) Founders Memorial School in November 2017. Each week four 3rd year students would attend a rotation, where they would each have the opportunity to use mobile equipment to treat a patient (Child Prophylaxis – D1120, Dental Hygiene Patient Assessment – D0191, Oral health risk assessment – D0601-3, Fluoride Varnish Application – D1206 and of course Oral Hygiene Instructions – D1330), as well as provide a 30 minute classroom education session.  Talk about stepping outside of our comfort zone, not only during their first visit did they use equipment and instruments that they were not very familiar with, they also embarked on some public speaking which wrapped up with a hands on “dental plaque” experiment. In the Spring of 2018, the 2nd year dental hygiene students took on this rotation and through the use of tele-dentistry we added in radiographs to our services.  We billed Medicaid for the services provided and if a child did not have a dental benefit, we provided care for free.  By taking the services to the school, many children received care that would have otherwise gone without preventive dental hygiene care for a variety of reasons.  Ultimately, we hope that this means less time missed from school, less dental disease and healthier children.  While preparing our future colleagues to feel comfortable stepping into an alternative practice setting providing direct services.  Overall this was a great experience and we look forward to our continued partnerships in the future.

-Submitted by Heather Blair, RDH, MPH – VDHA Immediate Past-President