Palm Desert teaching facility opens opportunities for advanced education, providing dental care to valley’s underserved
by Debbie Fried
Loma Linda University’s School of Dentistry (LLUSD) welcomes aspiring dental hygienists to a new Palm Desert campus. College of the Desert students now have the opportunity to obtain an Associate of Science degree from world-renowned Loma Linda University, here in Palm Desert.
Until now, students in the Coachella Valley interested in obtaining a degree in Dental Hygiene had to either endure long commutes out of the desert, or relocate completely in order to receive their training. In addition, to become a dental hygienist, a Bachelor’s degree was the only option. The full-time LLU Dental Hygiene program can be completed in approximately two years. “Students gain extensive training in all aspects of preventative dental care, including oral examinations, X-rays, sealants, and teeth cleanings,” explains Palm Desert campus supervisor, Tina Martinez.
This new program, and the facility that houses it, are the result of many inquiries from local dentists directed at Loma Linda University about how more hygienists can be trained here in the Coachella Valley to serve the needs of the desert communities. The eight original “pioneering students,” who began their studies last fall, are setting the tone for the program, and have given us invaluable feedback,” says Barbara Parker of the Loma Linda School of Dentistry.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control, 16 percent of children between ages 6-19 do not receive needed treatment for cavities. Dr. Allan Melnick, a Southern California dentist reports that 16 million low-income children did not receive adequate dental care in 2011. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, dental hygienists earn an average of $33.50 per hour, and $69,760 annually.
One of the goals for the new facility is to offer free or low-cost clinics to the Coachella Valley’s underserved children and their parents. Plans are also under way to sponsor community outreach events and presentations in local schools, says Parker. Each of these services will be offered with the objective of providing greater access to dental health to valley residents.
On Wednesday, May 9, students were taking their pediatric examinations- not at a desk with pencil and paper, but in the actual state-of-the-art clinic, treating local children. The facility’s on-site dentist, Dr. David Brodeur, was overseeing the students that day. Speaking of the difficulty many students are having getting admitted to nursing programs, Brodeur says, “it’s a perfect place where you can actually begin right now.” Brodeur had been a practicing dentist for 25 years before teaching. “We used to take senior [dental hygiene] students to Mecca, but the clinic was closed due to funding.” Speaking of the new services provided by the clinic, says Brodeur, “it’s very available, and a good resource for the area.”
The next session is set to begin in September, and is expected to welcome approximately three times as many students as the first group that began last fall. Upon completion of the required prerequisites at COD, eligible students may apply to the 21-month full-time program in Palm Desert. Says Department Chair, Kris Wilkins, once prerequisites have been met, staff from Loma Linda University provide the actual clinical training to prepare students for the State exam to become a licensed Dental Hygienist.
Priscilla Blow, a current dental hygiene student at the new clinic/teaching facility, says she relocated from Palmdale to be part of the new program. Blow says of her seven fellow students, three came from COD [and are local students], while others commute from as far as Riverside and Rowland Heights. The campus is located at the Pointe Monterey Business Park, behind Sam’s Club near Interstate 10.
Adult clinics are offered on Wednesdays where patients receive a general dental health consultation, x-rays and deep cleanings, as needed, says Martinez. Due to the extensive nature of the examinations, it is not uncommon for a follow-up appointment to be necessary, she explains. Each session is offered at a cost of $35 dollars. The school’s first pediatric clinic was offered in December, for a nominal cost of only $8 dollars. The next pediatric clinic is anticipated to be offered in December of 2012.
The clinic is located at 34-280 Gateway Drive and is open Wedsnesdays from 8 – 5. The phone number is (760) 324-2091. Martinez says,”we have been having full scheduling here at the clinic, people are so excited; they tell their family and friends.”
To make inquiries regarding the Associate of Science program, contact Barbara Parker at (909) 558-4631, ext. 3. A list of Associate of Science prerequisites can also be found at www.llu.edu. Priority will be given to COD students during the admissions process, according to the LLUSD website .