August 8, 2016

Spotlight on Dental Hygiene: Lauren Dennis, ’17 DHY Highlighted in Publication

What influenced you to pursue a career in Dental Hygiene?

In high school, I spent a lot of time at the dental office for various issues with my teeth. I was always fond of the hygienists that I encountered and realized that they were the ones I would always make a good connection with. I started thinking about how great it would be to work with patients in a dental office. The hygienist gets to have their own appointment time with each patient and it is their job to educate the patients on homecare. I have always been interested in anatomy, so I also thought about how cool it would be to study oral anatomy. Finally, upon talking to various hygienists about their career, almost all of the feedback was positive, and many of them talked about how flexible your hours can be and how there are so many more opportunities out there for hygienists than people are aware of. Once I started my observations, I was sure that this was the career for me. 

Lauren Dennis

What has your experience been like at Ohio State?

I cannot put into words how incredible the dental hygiene program at The Ohio State University is. To begin with, this school emphasizes the importance of being able to work as a dental team. This means that each hygiene student is paired up with three other dental students to coordinate patients, and we also get to take a few classes with the dental students. This really helps to bring all of the students in the college together and prepare us for working as a team in the future. It has also been so great becoming so close with my 31 classmates, and we really work to support each other. The transition from working on typodonts to seeing our own patients was made easier through our ability to work with one another and ask for feedback amongst the group.  

Also worth noting is the amazing faculty. They are all so passionate about their field of work and are so eager to teach us what they know. They demonstrate the perfect balance between letting us step out of our comfort zones and also knowing when to step in. I have learned so much from hearing them recount their clinical experiences. We also have had lectures from professors and residents of various specialties in the college, which gives us a very well-rounded education and helps with clinical application. 

I have had such an overwhelmingly positive experience here, and I would not trade it for the world. It is amazing how much I have grown in just this past year, and I can still see how I am growing every day. Being in a program has been a lot different than taking my general education requirements, and I love that I finally get to work solely on my passion, with classmates that I respect and faculty that I truly admire. 

Were there other schools you were considering? Why did you choose this one?

I am originally from Illinois, so you can bet that I had taken a few other schools into consideration, as going to school out of state is not cheap. I knew that I wanted to graduate with a bachelor of science in dental hygiene, along with a minor in dance, which automatically narrowed my options. The Ohio State University College of Dentistry truly stood out to me because it was one of the only dental hygiene programs associated with a dental school, which means I would get the experience of working amongst dental students, and I would also be able to observe and work with patients in the many specialty clinics, including periodontics, endodontics, prosthodontics, orthodontics, oral surgery and pediatric dentistry. Receiving a minor in dance was also very important to my decision, as I knew I had to continue with my passion for dance and I wanted the chance to teach dance in my future. Ohio State has a wonderful dance program, which really solidified my decision to go to this school. I can genuinely say that there is something for everyone here, and for students out there looking to cater your career path to your passions and specific needs, this would be the place to choose. 

What were the requirements for acceptance?

To be accepted into the program, you had to have a GPA of at least 2.7 (with a program average of around 3.5), various pre-requisite courses completed, and 20 hours of observation. You then must submit an application and be invited to interview. After the interview process, you received notice if you were accepted into the program. It is a competitive application process, which is necessary for how advanced the program is, something I better understand now that I have finished my first year. 

What is your favorite class so far?

My favorite class thus far has been oral anatomy. I have loved anatomy ever since I took it in high school, so going even more in depth with teeth and the structures of the oral cavity was fascinating to me. This class is crucial to the education of a dental hygienist because it teaches you anatomical terms that you will use throughout your entire career. I think I learned more in this class than I have in any other college course. 

What is unique about the nature of your major’s classes?

I think one of the biggest differences would be that almost all of our classes relate to one another and build upon the material of each class. Many of the same topics get covered in each class, but in a different way based on the purpose and application. For example, we learn a lot about different systemic conditions in our pre-clinic class, then we expand on these conditions and the different medications used to manage them in our pathology/pharmacology class, and then we tie these conditions to oral health in periodontal therapy. It is one of the things I like most about the program.

Another thing unique to being in a dental hygiene program is that we are essentially preparing to care for our patients. Everything we learn can at some point be used clinically, so a large part of our curriculum is learning how to take what we learn in class and apply it to the clinic setting. 

What has been the most challenging aspect of this area of study, and was this something you had originally anticipated?

I think the most challenging aspect of studying dental hygiene is being able to balance your coursework with clinic work. Not only do we have weekly classes with exams and homework, but we also have to manage our patient pool and make sure we are perfecting our clinical skills with evaluations. Essentially, we have to be book smart and keep up our technical abilities, all while making sure our patients are satisfied. I don’t think I could have anticipated this, as I never truly knew what taking care of my own patients would entail until I began the program, but I did feel that I was well prepared in terms of being able to take care of my coursework. 

Is there anything you wish you had known about this major ahead of time before choosing this career path?

I remember being slightly embarrassed when I would tell people that I planned to study dental hygiene. Their response would almost always be, "Oh, so you want to be a dentist?" I used to take this as offensive, but I think some people genuinely do not understand what a huge role the dental hygienist plays in the field of dentistry. If I had known how challenging a dental hygiene program could be, or how many growing opportunities there are out there for dental hygienists, I would not have been embarrassed at all. I have learned more than I could ever imagine, and I can’t wait to see how many lives I change because of my profession. 

How are you financing your education, and what are your most helpful online resources or tools?

Financing an out-of-state education is no easy feat, but this past year I was able to receive the Yardley Family Scholarship in dental hygiene. I cannot even begin to describe how much this has helped to relieve financial burden from me and my parents. I also work two jobs throughout the year, which definitely took some getting used to once I started the program. I think it is important for students everywhere to use online sources to seek out scholarships. You never know what you can find on the internet, and there are many schools that offer an online application that will allow you to apply for multiple scholarships that you are eligible for. Being a part of a professional program, such as the ADHA, has its perks as well when it comes to searching for scholarships. 

What are the best ways to network with your peers within your major?

In terms of networking with dental hygiene students of other schools, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association hosts an annual session where dental hygiene students from around the country can meet and talk about different aspects of the profession. 

In my program specifically, everyone is involved in a group chat, where essentially we can all speak with each other through text. This has been great for talking about due dates, class times and working out clinic schedule openings if our patients request to be seen on a date we are not in clinic. 

Have you participated in any internships?

I have not been involved with any internships pertaining to dental hygiene, although I do work for the OSU College of Dentistry as a student worker in the insurance office. This has really helped me see a whole other aspect of dentistry. I have learned about how dental insurance works and what is common when it comes to the different companies and their coverage. One great thing about OSU College of Dentistry is that we are Medicaid providers, so I have been able to learn a lot about agency insurance in comparison with private insurance.

What are your future career plans and aspirations?

My goal is to work in an area where my services are greatly needed. Once I become a registered dental hygienist, I have looked into working with Indian Health Service. This would allow me to serve a population that needs dental care, while being able to possibly explore various locations in the West. I think it would also be great to get involved with underserved areas in Ohio that do not have great access to care, such as the Appalachia region. Our professional organization, the American Dental Hygienists’ Association, continues to work toward legislature that will allow dental hygienists to practice independently in an effort to better serve low-access populations. 

Something I would also like to do is go on a service trip with Global Dental Relief. They visit places such as India, Guatemala, and Kenya in order to bring children dental care that they would not otherwise be able to receive. It would be amazing to be able to use my skills to help those in need, and you can learn a great deal from traveling as well.

What is the best piece of advice related to your field of study that you have received?

My advisor, Michele Carr, really helped me to see that, as much as I want to be a perfectionist, everyone has to start somewhere and there are going to be many learning experiences. I can’t control everything, nor can I be perfect at everything I do, so what I can do is give it my best and use my passion and drive to my advantage. 

What advice would you give someone else trying to break into this field?

The best advice I can give is to make sure that you are truly passionate about this profession. Observing other dental hygienists is a really great way to find out if this profession is meant for you. I think that if you have passion, almost anything can be accomplished. While it may seem hard transitioning from general education classes to a challenging program, I have always been driven by my desire to one day become a registered dental hygienist. Nothing is impossible when you have enough determination, and the dental hygiene profession is extremely rewarding. 

Lauren Dennis was interviewed by Kelsey Szukhent at ValuePenguin, which helps consumers make informed decisions related to their careers, education, health, and financial well-being.