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Low-Cost Dental Care is Available: For $20, Students Can Provide Teeth Cleaning for Children or Adults

February 22, 2006

By Steve Lyttle, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

Feb. 22–It might be one of the best bargains in town — if you’ve got some extra time and a bit of faith in the educational system.

Central Piedmont Community College’s Dental Hygiene Clinic provides low-cost services for the community, while giving its students a chance to test their newly learned skills on the public.

“It’s one of those secrets — something a lot of people don’t seem to know about,” Judy Qualtieri, chairman of the dental hygiene program at CPCC, said of the clinic, which operates from the Belk building on the school’s central campus.

For about four decades, CPCC’s Dental Hygiene Clinic has provided cleanings, fluoride treatments, X rays and oral health education for the public. The services are provided by students in the program.

The cost — $20 — is a fraction of what is charged by regular dental offices.

“We really aren’t stealing dentists’ patients,” Qualtieri said. “We’re getting mostly people who wouldn’t do it otherwise.”

Many of the clinic’s patients are children or adults who do not have dental insurance and cannot afford the services from a dentist’s office. CPCC’s clinic has dentists on site to check on teeth. In addition, Qualtieri, lab director Sheila Pointer and other teachers look over the shoulders of their students to make sure everything is done correctly.

“Our checkups take a bit longer than usual — sometimes up to three hours — because the students are a bit slower than experienced hygienists,” Pointer said. “In addition, we have our instructors check behind them. But we never have any problems. The students always do a good job.”

At any given time, there are about 30 students enrolled in the two-year dental hygiene program at CPCC.

Qualtieri said the job market has tightened a bit in recent months, because some people are losing health insurance and visiting dentists less frequently than before. But they say nearly all their students find jobs quickly.

“It’s a good profession,” she said. “The hours are good, and the compensation is solid.”

The loss of medical insurance also is causing a change in the condition of teeth among some patients visiting the CPCC clinic, Pointer said.

“We’re seeing more people who are putting off preventive care,” she said. “Without insurance, they can’t afford to see the dentist.”

Qualtieri said CPCC’s students are learning with the latest technology, including ultrasonic instruments to clean teeth and digital X-ray equipment.

“This is like any other aspect of medical science,” she said. “The technology is changing rapidly. We’re changing with it.”

Dental Hygiene Clinic

The CPCC Dental Hygiene Clinic is in the Belk building at the school’s Central Campus, 1201 Elizabeth Avenue. The clinic is open 4 1/2 days a week during the current spring semester. It operates three days a week in the summer and 2 1/2 days a week in the fall semester. For details about the clinic or the dental hygiene program, call (704) 330-6704.

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Charlotte Observer, N.C.

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