New York City residents suffer disproportionately from chronic diseases such as heart disease leading to a heart attack or stroke and diabetes that are attributable to poor oral health, according to a report from the Mayo Clinic, in addition to other ailments such as gum disease, dementia, and pregnancy complications.

In an effort to fight these preventable health conditions, Plaza College’s Dental Hygiene Program, based in Forest Hills, Queens, now trains 100 future dental hygienists and operates the Plaza College Community Dental Clinic, open to the public with affordable fees based on a sliding scale and completely free for children under 18-years-of-age.

 Dr. Margaret Garland, DDS, a program instructor, said the clinic provides students with the experience to meet the substantial need for oral healthcare in New York City.

“As part of the two-year clinical program, students earn more than 500 hours of hands-on experience treating real patients under the supervision of a dentist,” Dr. Garland said. “This type of experience simply can’t be recreated in a classroom. They leave the program with knowledge and experience in all types of dental care and are ready to take on any challenge that sits in their chair.”

Dental hygienists work in a dental office and conduct full teeth cleanings, which account for most of a routine visit, along with taking X-rays, screening for oral cancers, and scaling and polishing the teeth.

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Hygienists also provide the initial analysis of each patient’s oral health, before consulting with the dentist on suggested procedures.  On a typical day, a dental hygienist will treat between eight and twelve patients. Students in the Plaza College program see children, teenagers, and adults, preparing them to work in pediatric or adult dental clinics after graduation.

Some 40 dental hygienist candidates are expected to graduate from the Plaza College program in June 2019.

“There are not many dental hygiene educational programs offered and this is a real medical need not being met,” said Professor Laura Sleeper, a licensed dental hygienist and the Director of the Dental Hygiene Program.  “Oral healthcare is a growing field and the more regularly we can provide care, the sooner that potential problems can be identified and addressed. Our job is to provide a thorough educational experience to launch our students into long term, sustainable careers in the dental field.”

The number of dental hygienists needed will increase dramatically in the near future, creating a need for individuals who have received this training,  according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects that the number of jobs in this field will increase by 22% in New York State and 20% nationally.

Including benefits, dental hygienists nationally earn an average of more than $74,000.

“I am so grateful for the hands-on experience,” said second-year student Sahida Nasim. “I am the first in my family to go to college and earn a degree. This program has given me the confidence and laid the foundations for a solid, secure and successful dental career.”

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