Note: This story is the seventh in a series from our annual Health & Wellness special section, part of the Chronicle’s April 1 print edition. The section was sponsored by Franciscan Health.
You could be the next patient at the Prairie State College dental hygiene clinic.
For more than 50 years, the clinic has been offering free and reduced prices for initial dental care, including a comprehensive exam, teeth cleaning, X-rays, gingivitis therapy and fluoride treatment. Services are available to community members as young as age 3.
Care is delivered by dental hygiene and dental assistant students who have passed rigorous exams and met academic standards to work directly with patients. Each visit can take an hour or more, depending on the patient’s dental health. Patients may need more than one visit.
If after a session the hygienist recommends the patient should see a dentist, the clinic can provide a list of dentists it works with on a regular basis. The clinic also has connections to major dental schools and clinics in Chicago if a patient’s needs are more extensive.
The clinic is an inexpensive way to get initial dental care. A comprehensive exam is free. Teeth cleaning and a periodontal maintenance are each $22 for adults. A teeth cleaning for children up to age 9 is $10. Sealants and sports guards are $5 each, and a fluoride treatment is $2 for children and adults. X-rays start at $3 for a single X-ray up to $20 for a panoramic X-ray. The prices are discounted for those 55 and older.
“We are not a ‘dental home.’ We encourage patients to find a dentist,” said Associate Professor Rebecca Buckle, who serves as clinical coordinator. “A lot of our patients don’t have insurance so they come here for their cleaning and then to a dentist. We have a list of those in the community that will work with them. Dentists who have a patient without insurance, they send them to the PSC clinic for X-rays,” and the digital files are then sent to dentist’s office, Buckle said.
Kathy Karwoski dental hygiene department chair, said, “Some people haven’t seen a dentist for 20 years because they just don’t have the funding to do it. We’re right in their community and they’re so appreciative.”
The clinic is housed in a free-standing building on the north side of Vollmer Road on the PSC campus in Chicago Heights. The District 515 school board recently invested more than $1 million remodeling the lab. Everything was updated, from the ceiling tiles, the flooring and most of the lab equipment. The HVAC system is new.
Each operatory, or work station, has new equipment, including new patient chairs, a hands-free lighting system, instrument trays with cavitron attachment making it easy to get water to the patient. There is a Vector Vortex system in each operatory that serves as an additional oral suction device, a kind of vacuum when a procedure produces a lot of aerosol, Buckle said. The Vortex uses four filter systems before it cycles the air back into the clinic.
The clinic is moving into sustainability. Protective gowns used to be disposed of, but a washer/dryer suite was added so students can clean and re-wear gowns. There also is an ongoing effort to reduce waste, Karwoski said.
PSC was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the federal government that will be used to expand the clinic. Karwoski is excited by the plans to open a second training area, called a simulation lab.
When students are first admitted to the program, they need to be introduced to the profession and all it entails. The simulation lab will give them the space to learn how to use the equipment in an operatory, how to identify and learn to use the instruments, and provide space to practice on a model set of teeth and a mannequin. In addition to learning about the teeth, students need to know every bone and nerve in the head and neck, Buckle said.
“The (simulation) lab will be a key component for hands-on practice in a safe and controlled environment and will let students prove they are able to go on to work with patients,” Buckle said.
The simulation lab also gives the dental programs more space. Enrollment is capped at 38 students. The last class was selected from 161 qualified candidates. Karwoski wants to tap into that interest for the program and says the simulation lab will help the dental hygiene and dental assistant program grow.
For additional information on the dental hygiene and dental assistant programs, or to schedule an appointment at the clinic, call 708-709-3707.