The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

April 1, 2013

Bridgemont's dental clinic provides community service

MONTGOMERY — With its gleaming equipment and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the Kanawha River, Bridgemont Community College’s dental clinic has more to offer than simply being free.

From intra-oral cameras that show patients photos of their own teeth to computerized records, the clinic prides itself on being technologically up to date.

“I think that when you look at the culture we promote here, and that our patients compliment us on, it’s a professional environment,” says Michelle Klenk, professor and chair of the Dental Hygiene program at Bridgemont.

Located on the sixth floor of Davis Hall on Bridgemont’s campus, the clinic includes 18 patient treatment stations, a radiography area, and a state-of-the-art instrument processing area.

There, under the watchful eyes of three faculty members who are on the floor at all times, students gain clinical experience and help their community at the same time.

As part of the community college system, one of the goals of the program is to work with the community and meet its needs.

They provide all their preventive care free of charge, offering a valuable service to the Upper Kanawha Valley and surrounding areas.

Established in the mid-’70s through a federal grant program, the clinic served 1,100 patients in the last calendar year.

Their preventive services include cleanings, sealants and X-rays. They do not provide comprehensive dental care like fillings, dentures, crowns or extractions, but they can do initial treatments for some conditions and then make referrals to a practicing dentist.

Klenk cautions that appointments may take a little longer than at a typical dentist because supervisors must check all student work.

Bridgemont’s dental students also do projects in schools, at health fairs, and at community meetings. They provide free care in Kanawha County Schools’ school-based clinics and at the Health Right Clinic in Charleston.

Many of the patients who visit the clinic are the friends and family of students. But that pool is finite, and students need to work on difficult cases too.

The clinic is always looking for patients, especially those who are “periodontally involved,” as Klenk puts it. That could mean they have gum disease or haven’t had a cleaning in years.

Perhaps they’ve lost their insurance or they can’t afford to go to the dentist regularly. While Medicaid pays for tooth extraction, it doesn’t pay for preventative tooth care, says Klenk. That’s a need her clinic is happy to fill.

Despite over 30 years of service, Klenk says the clinic remains a bit of a secret.

“Even local people will come up to our sixth-floor clinic and say, ‘Gosh, I had no idea you were here,’” she says.

Klenk directed the program for 13 years, left for 10, and then came back three years ago.

The two-year associate’s degree program enrolls about 22 students each fall directly out of high school or after some college work.

Like many other health-related programs, it’s in high demand. Each year they have no trouble filling seats and usually have a waiting list to pull from right up until the first day of class.

“We’re seen as the primary program that provides hygienists to this part of the state,” says Klenk.

Students come from all walks of life, from those who just graduated from high school to, in rare cases, those who already have a master’s degree.

Some have families and responsibilities outside school but want to pursue a health care career. Others have been dental assistants before and want to move up a rung on the career ladder and become hygienists.

The fellow freshmen form a learning cohort, a supportive environment similar to the education experience of other health care professionals. They take all classes and clinics together as a group.

The program pulls from Ra-leigh, Putnam, Clay, Nicholas and Fayette counties, with some students traveling sizable distances to attend class.

They are almost exclusively women.

“I think it’s just a historical thing for dental hygiene. Nursing is a little ahead of us in that realm. Now we see more male nurses. We’re just starting to see more males interested in hygiene, but we aren’t at that point yet,” says Klenk.

Dental school classes, on the other hand, are over 50 percent female now. Klenk thinks this may trickle down to hygiene in the future.

Graduates of the program hold the entry-level degree for clinical dental hygiene.

Klenk says the rewards for students are demonstrated every day at the clinic.

“To see the patient go from disease to health is a very positive experience for the students,” she says.

In the spring, the clinic is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Call 304-734-6651 for an appointment.

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