Dental hygiene expands to Sikeston

Last semester Missouri Southern and Southeast Missouri State University brought a dental hygiene program to southeast Missouri.

To commemorate the Distance Dental Hygiene Program shared by the two universities, a dedication was held Jan. 31. The ribbon cutting ceremony was hosted at the SEMSU campus in Sikeston at 4 p.m.

“Bringing the education to the region allows students to earn a degree closer to home,” said Deborah Gerecke, director of Distance Dental Hygiene Programs. “Prior to this opportunity being offered at Sikeston, students had to commute to southern Illinois or relocate to other areas for a dental hygiene education.”

The program’s first class began last semester at the Sikeston site. Those seven students will graduate in May 2009 with associate’s degrees in dental hygiene. According to Gerecke, the program plans to accept 10 students each semester. Because of this limited enrollment, the program is a highly competitive one.

At the Sikeston campus students will have access to eight dental operatories, three radiology units and a panoramic x-ray. The equipment is funded by a $920,000 congressionally directed grant, while funding for faculty and staff is provided by an Economic Development grant of $250,000.

For the first two semesters of the two-year program, students will practice their clinical skills on models. In their third semester, however, students will begin to test their knowledge on real patients.

Patients will be able to receive preventive dental services such as dental cleanings, fluoride treatments, dental sealants and radiographs (x-rays).

“Students will also do rotations in facilities outside of school, Gerecke said.

Application to the program requires a photocopy of all college transcripts and an essay discussing, “Why I want to be a dental hygienist.” Furthermore, a minimum 2.75 GPA is required or, with a minimum ACT composite score of 25, a 2.50 GPA is also accepted.

Currently, the dental program is also offered at the Rolla Technical Center.

In the future, Southern may consider creating a third site in northeast Missouri. But until then, Southern will share its program with students to the southeast.