Proving low-cost dental hygiene service gives TCC students hands-on training

Corriana Cooks (left) and Victoria Stewart will graduate next spring from the TCC Dental Hygiene Program.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine
Lane Wilson-Foreman, chair of the Dental Hygiene program at TCC.
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

Coming out of high school, Victoria Stewart was already a certified nurse assistant. 

She seemed destined for a nursing career until she decided to shadow some nurses on their jobs. It didn’t take long for Stewart to realize “that wasn’t for me.”

She still wanted to be in healthcare, though. Becoming a dental hygienist was her next option.

A few days of doing another shadowing session eventually led to Stewart landing a few hours each week as a sterile technician.

She saw enough as the person who sterilized the apparatus used by the dentists to know she was in the right place, Stewart said.

“I just fell in love with it; the environment and all the people that were there,” said Stewart, a Wakulla High School graduate.

Stewart will be among a class of students who graduate from the Dental Hygiene Program at Tallahassee Community College next spring. They will have plenty of practical experience as dental hygienists when they leave.

Most of that experience will come from the low-cost dental service that TCC offers. Students provide preventative dental services that include cleanings, x-rays, and other dental therapy, said Land Wilson-Foreman, chair of the Dental Hygiene program at TCC.

TCC is one of 13 accredited dental hygiene programs at community colleges in Florida with accreditation by the American Dental Association, which requires the low-cost dental hygiene service be provided by students. They hone their skills in a facility that features state-of-the-art equipment at TCC. 

While any resident could take advantage of the check-ups, participants are usually people from marginalized communities. The service has been a part of the hygiene program since it started in 1975. 

Its popularity is rising as more people find out about the service, Wilson-Foreman said. The first step is to make an appointment, then the service could take up to three hours to complete.

“The reduced cost is so significant,” Wilson Foreman said. “What will cost them thousands of dollars in a private practice cost them $20 or so.”

The public service goes a long way in helping dental hygiene students work on their job readiness, but they have to pass four required exams to enter the workforce.

That’s a day that Corriana Cooks is looking forward to. She started the TCC program after earning an AA degree from Florida State Jacksonville junior college.

She later enrolled in the dental hygiene program with not a lot more than a desire to complete the 88-hour course requirement.

“Everything was new to me, but I was able to learn within a year,” said Cooks, who graduated from First Coast High School in Jacksonville. “Now it’s been very rewarding. I’m proud of myself because I’m able to do that in a short period of time.

Cooks will also graduate from TCC next spring.

“Getting that hand-on experience is great because at the end of the year we have to take a test and be able to clean that whole mouth. It’s good for the patient and good for us.”

However, course work could add to the intensity while on the path to starting a career, “but in the end it’s very rewarding,” Wilson-Foreman said.

Especially in the case of providing dental care to people in need, said Stewart.

“I love it,” she said. “I don’t look at a patient with a million dollars different from a patient with zero dollars. They all look the same to me. I love all my patients.

“I cut up with them the entire time; I just make them feel comfortable because I know some people don’t have the greatest experience with dentists.”


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