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LCC dental clinic good deal for clients, students.

Byline: THE HEALTH FILES by Tim Christie The Register-Guard

PATIENTS WALK from a nondescript waiting room into a long, airy exam room filled with natural light from a bank of windows overlooking Eugene's forested south hills.

The 18-chair dental clinic at Lane Community College is a nicer space than most dentist offices.

The clinic moved to a new location last April that's about three times larger than the "cramped, old, ugly space" that scarcely gave students the elbow room they needed to work on patients, said Sharon Hagan, who coordinates the dental hygiene program.

The clinic was renovated and equipped with funds from a bond measure approved by voters in 1995.

It's in this clinic where students learn the technical and people skills they need to get jobs, and where patients can get dental care at cut-rate prices.

The LCC dental clinic is popular with seniors, retirees, students and people who lack health insurance. First-visit evaluations are free. A teeth-cleaning is just $30 - $25 for seniors.

For people who have avoided dentists for a few years, the clinic "can be a good opportunity to get back into dentistry," Hagan said. "A lot of people stay away because they feel anxiety, or they feel guilty."

Once a person is treated at the LCC clinic, they're referred back to a regular dentist.

On a recent morning, second-year students, wearing blue smocks, surgical masks and safety glasses, took patient histories and worked on patients lying back in new, $9,000 dental chairs. Other students worked elsewhere, honing their instruments, sanitizing equipment and learning how to operate X-ray machines.

Retiree Ralph DeBenning of Cottage Grove heard about the clinic from a friend. He first came in 2000 and came back last week.

"I was very satisfied with what I had before," he said. "It saved me a lot of money and they did just as good work - and it helps the college, too."

Patients who come to the clinic can expect to be there for a while. The students take a longer time than a professional hygienist would, and their work is constantly being checked by instructors.

"Every step along the way students have their work checked," Hagan said.

Veronica Becker, a retired nurse from Eugene, first heard about the clinic years ago when she attended LCC.

"I'm retired now. Funds are short. I know they do good work here," she said. "I don't see any point in not availing myself of their services."

When she faced expensive work by her regular dentist, he told her he thought it was a good idea to go to the college clinic, she said.

"He thought I would make a good learning subject for these guys," she said.

And in fact, instructors and students aren't looking for patients with immaculate mouths.

"What we're looking for is people who haven't had regular dental care," Hagan said. "Some people get turned away if their mouths are in too good of shape."

Students are always on the lookout for mouths that can provide teachable moments, Hagan said. They post fliers, talk to friends, even approach clerks at fast-food outlets and convenience stores.

"They're looking all the time for people," she said.

The two-year program typically attracts more than 100 applicants each year, and admits 18 students each fall. And now that Oregon Health & Science University in Portland is preparing to shutter its dental hygiene program, student demand will likely grow at LCC and other community college programs.

After the Legislature cut $10 million from OHSU's budget, university officials decided to phase out the program. Barring a reversal, last fall's 36-student class was the last to be admitted, said Barbara Kuhn, an administrative assistant.

LCC's program attracts students from Salem to Medford, and from Bend to the coast. After completing the program, students earn an associate degree of applied science in dental hygiene. And they enter a job market where employment is virtually guaranteed, particularly in rural areas.

Second-year student Allison Dodge commutes from Albany four days a week. She expects to find full-time work in the Corvallis-Albany area when she graduates.

"They prepare us really well," she said.

She was attracted to the job in part by the money - dental hygienists can earn $25 to $32 an hour.

"This is a very desirable profession," Hagan said. Good pay, flexible hours, and a "great deal of job satisfaction" attracts people to the job, she said.

Second-year student Lisa Schnoor of Eugene said she likes working with people and has always liked dentistry, even when she was on the receiving end.

"I grew up having a lot of dentistry done," she said. "I always had a good time."

Tim Christie covers health and medical issues. Call 338-2572 or e-mail tchristie@guardnet.com.

LCC DENTAL CLINIC

For more information or to make an appointment at Lane Community College's dental clinic, call 726-2206.

For a referral to see a family dentist, call the Lane County Dental Society at 686-1175.
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Title Annotation:Health
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jan 21, 2002
Words:825
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