May 18, 2015

JOHN D. HOMAN
Logan Media Services

CARTERVILLE – John A. Logan College students pursuing a career as Certified Dental Assistants began enrolling in a program at the Carterville-based campus as early as 1981.

Nineteen years later in 2000, students also had the opportunity to earn certification in Dental Hygiene.

Both Logan programs are accredited through CODA or the Commission on Dental Accreditation.

Kathy Gibson, Coordinator for Dental Assisting, said Dental Assisting is a one-year certificate program. The college’s first facility was constructed in 1979 and later remodeled in 1994 with the purchase of new equipment.

The most recent remodeling occurred in 2013 with a new room location built for four new dental chairs and x-ray equipment. New digital radiography and a materials lab area and instructional room were also added.
“We had 36 new students enrolled here this past fall semester,” she said.

Regarding job placement, Gibson said there “always seems to be a need” for Dental Assistants, even in this region.

“The pay will usually range from $12 to $15 an hour and sometimes more,” she said. “If you want to work bad enough, you can usually find employment.”

Gibson said many dentists also offer health benefits to their employees.

Jasmine Lamont graduated the JALC Dental Assisting program just last year. She now works for Carterville Dental Center.

“I was fortunate enough to be hired full-time right out of school,” Lamont said. “I sterilize instruments; make temporary crowns; assist the doctor in procedures; and work in the lab. I’m very happy to be where I am. All the hands-on lab work I did with instructors at Logan is paying off.

Lamont is a 2009 graduate of Frankfort Community High School in West Frankfort. She works at the dental practice from 7:30 to 5.

One of Lamont’s co-workers, Amy Bigham, is also a graduate of the Logan Dental Assisting program.

“I’m originally from Pinckneyville and first started taking classes at Logan in 1991,” Bigham said. “I started out doing Dental Assisting work, but now spend most of my work time behind the desk, scheduling appointments and handling billing and insurance. I like what I do.”

Della Fulk, Coordinator for JALC’s Dental Hygiene Program, said the first class graduated in 2001. Dental Hygiene is a one-plus-one program at Logan, which means students accepted into the program must come from an accredited Dental Assisting program and then have to complete four more semesters to be eligible for national board exams and clinical or regional boards before applying for a license.

“Every state that you want to work in requires a license,” Fulk said. “Not all of our students earned their certification as Dental Assistants here. To be specific, 12 of 20 who have applied for our program next fall are from Logan. Others are transferring from Kaskaskia College and West Kentucky Technical College, for example. We take a maximum of 20 students per semester.”

Regarding job placement, Fulk said it’s not as easy as it used to be to help students find work immediately after completing their coursework at Logan.

“Unfortunately, the Dental Hygiene field here in Southern Illinois is very tight,” she said. “Most of our graduates end up taking part-time positions. Some may work as a Dental Assistant three days a week, and the other two days work as a Dental Hygienist. Some may work for more than one dentist. There just aren’t that many full-time Dental Hygienists in one office. The reason is that these are good jobs, and once people get that job, they don’t leave.”

Fulk said a typical dental practice in Southern Illinois with one dentist will employ 1 ½ to two Dental Hygienists. Salaries generally start from $15-to-$18 an hour, and usually escalate with some experience. Some even pay as much as $25.

“Over the years, we’ve had students from Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Indiana, as well as the Chicago area,” Fulk said. “A lot of times, those students locate back where they came from. And we have had some students from our area move away from here in order to find the right job. While it’s tough to find Dental Hygiene jobs, there is always a need for a Dental Assistant. If you are willing to do the work, you will find work. If you are interested only in being a Dental Hygienist, it may take a while.”

Hygienists are qualified to clean teeth, perform x-rays, administer local anesthesia, and perform patient assessments in order to provide the best possible oral health. They can also perform clinical studies, help educate the masses on oral care, help establish dental clinics, and assist in the making of dental impressions. Their major role, however, is to perform periodontal therapy or the cleaning of teeth.

One Dental Hygienist who graduated the JALC program and is thriving in the workforce is Mariessa Orso, employed by Dr. Chris Hughes at Logan Park in Herrin.

“I work Monday through Thursday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. and my hours are a perfect fit for me with a baby at home,” Orso said. “I’ve been working for Dr. Hughes now for eight years. He hired me before I even took my national boards at Logan. I’ve been very happy here.”

A 2001 Herrin High School graduate, Orso said she was prepared well for her job as a Dental Hygienist by the Logan instructors. She then enhanced her education in 2013, earning a bachelor’s degree in workforce education from SIUC.

“That got me a foot in the door at Logan where I now teach in the Dental Hygiene program part-time. I especially like teaching a board review course, which helps students fine-tune their skills before taking their final exam.”

There are 14 Dental Hygiene programs in Illinois, all of which are associate-degree programs at junior colleges with the exception of one bachelor’s-degree program at SIUC.

 

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If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Dr. Steve O’Keefe at 618-985-2828 ext. 8569 or email at steveokeefe@jalc.edu.