Southeast Partners with Missouri Southern State University to Offer Cooperative Dental Hygiene Program


Ribbon Cutting/Open House scheduled Jan. 31


Jan. 15, 2008 – Southeast Missouri State University continues to bring cooperative education to Southeast Missouri with a new dental hygiene program now offered at Southeast Missouri State University – Sikeston. The program, offered through Missouri Southern State University (MSSU) in cooperation with Southeast, will fill a need for qualified dental hygienists in the region.

A ribbon cutting and open house for the new dental hygiene program and facilities will be held at 4 p.m. Jan. 31 at the Sikeston campus.

The cooperative dental hygiene program also is offered at the Rolla Technical Center. Together, the programs will ultimately enhance the quality of dental care available to the historically underserved central and southeast regions of the state. 

“This program will benefit the citizens of the State of Missouri by providing preventative oral health care providers (dental hygienists) for citizens in the rural part of the state,” said Dr. Tia Strait, dean of the School of Technology at Missouri Southern.

 “This cooperative program is another example of Southeast’s commitment to serve the educational needs of the region,” added Dr. Randy Shaw, dean of the School of Polytechnic Studies and associate provost of the School of Extended Learning. “Our outstanding regional campus facilities and personnel, strategically located at Kennett, Malden, Perryville, as well as Sikeston, make this possible. This program, as well as the cooperative nursing program offered at the Kennett campus, in cooperation with Southeast Missouri Hospital’s College of Nursing and Health Services, lay the foundation for future cooperative efforts,” Shaw said.

The program has been granted accreditation from both the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and the Commission of Dental Accreditation, according to Debbie Gerecke, director of the dental hygiene program for both centers. Students accepted into the dental hygiene program in Sikeston and Rolla will earn an associate’s degree in dental hygiene, Gerecke said.

The collaborative effort between the universities began when Southeast contacted MSSU in 2004 about collaborating to bring a dental hygiene education program to southeast Missouri. MSSU, which was already working with the Missouri Dental Association to provide distance learning dental hygiene programs to underserved regions of the state, has offered a dental hygiene program on its main campus since 1975, and accepts 30 students annually into the program.

MSSU received a Congressionally Directed grant of $920,000 to provide equipment for the dental hygiene labs, as well as a $250,000 Economic Development grant for faculty and staff funding, according to Strait. The Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative (MOHELA loan sales) provided funding to remodel a room for a dental hygiene lab at Southeast’s Sikeston campus, Gerecke said.

“The dental hygiene lab at Sikeston features eight dental operatories, three radiology units and a panoramic x-ray where students can learn clinical skills by practicing on models before moving on to practice on each other,” Gerecke said. “During the students’ third semester, the clinic will be open to patients from the general population, dependent on their needs. Patients will be able to receive preventive dental services such as dental cleanings, fluoride treatments, dental sealants and radiographs (x-rays). Students also will do rotations in facilities outside the school,” Gerecke said. “Once students begin to see patients, a supervising dentist will be on site in accordance with the Missouri Dental Practice Act,” she added.

Southeast faculty will provide science and general education courses for the program, while Missouri Southern will provide the dental hygiene theory based-classes, all of which will be delivered via Instructional Television (ITV) or online, according to Gerecke. Each site also has on-site clinical faculty that will provide hands-on clinical training in the labs.

The dental hygiene curriculum will take two years, plus an additional 30 credit hours of required prerequisites, Gerecke said.

“The Sikeston campus accepted its first class of seven students into the dental hygiene program in the fall 2007 semester,” she said. “The first class of students will graduate in May 2009. We plan to accept 10 students each fall semester in the future.”

Students currently enrolled at the Sikeston campus are from communities around southeast Missouri, and Gerecke says they appreciate the convenience.

“Prior to this opportunity being offered in Sikeston, students had to commute to southern Illinois or relocate to other areas for a dental hygiene education,” Gerecke said. “Bringing the education to the region allows students to earn a degree closer to home, and graduates will be eligible for employment by local and regional dentists who have reportedly not been able to find enough dental hygienists to hire,” she said.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Laura Tuttle, a student from Van Buren, Mo., who is enrolled in the program at the Sikeston campus. “There are not many dental hygiene programs available in the state, and this keeps us from having to uproot our families and our entire lives to pursue this career. It’s a tough program,” she added. “You have to know your stuff; but it’s a really good program.”

Providing dental hygiene training close to home will benefit the region as well, Gerecke said.

“Dental hygienists are an asset to a dental practice,” she said. “A licensed dental hygienist can provide preventive services and meet educational needs for patients, allowing the dentist to concentrate time and energy on restorative and emergency needs of the patients.”

A full-time dental hygienist can earn as much as $45,000-50,000 or more a year.

Starting the program required a collaborative effort between many parties, according to Strait.

“The distance dental hygiene program is Sikeston and Rolla was possible through the support of several agencies, including the Missouri Dental Foundation, Missouri Dental Association, Missouri Dental Board, Missouri Dental Hygiene Association, Department of Economic Development, the state legislature, Congressman Roy Blunt (through a Congressionally Directed grant), Southeast Missouri State University and Missouri Southern State University,” Strait said.

“The State Legislature appropriated partial funding to Missouri Southern for the 2008 fiscal year to start the program for the first year. Missouri Southern will need the remaining funding appropriated in fiscal year 2009 to continue the program since there will be two groups of students in the program at each site, which will require additional faculty and resources,” Strait added.