PUBLISHED: 4:38 PM on Wednesday, November 8, 2006
Dental plan
New program prepares dental assistants for Southeast Alaska

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Colleen Bernhardt, left, receives instruction from Chris Hansen Tatham, certified dental assistant and instructor, while in training in the new program from Vocational Training and Resource Center in conjunction with SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.
Students are pioneering a fresh program to learning skills to gain steady jobs and be an asset to the community.

The new dental health aide and dental assistant program is a joint effort between Vocational Training and Resource Center and SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, said VTRC director Archie Cavanaugh. He said the program is a result of a survey of Juneau dentists who voiced the need for trained assistants.

The four-month long program began in August and trains four students per term.

Students receive classroom instruction and hands-on clinical experience, said certified dental assistant and instructor Chris Hansen Tatham.

"There just aren't that many dental assistants running around Juneau," Hansen Tatham said.

"As trained assistants they can move along a little faster, knowing the basics, and can go into an office and be fine turned to that particular dentist."

Each participant is certified in CPR and first aid and infection control and are certified as entry level dental assistants. They must undergo background checks because they work with children, Hansen Tatham said.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Violet Anderson looks into the mouth of Colleen Bernhardt during clinical training. The women are participants in the four-month dental assistant program from VTRC in conjunction with SEARHC.
She said while students learn the basics in the classroom the experience of working with patients at the SEARHC clinic is valuable.

"They've just blossomed," she said. "To see them go from reading about things in the book to doing the things they've learned, retaining that information and sharing it, it's amazing."

Classes at VTRC are open to the general public and are not restricted only to Native students, Cavanaugh said. Hansen Tatham said her first class has been all women, and they are working to improve their lives.

"To see they are learning a trade when they can go anywhere and have a job, these girls are going to show they've made a great accomplishment," she said. "They're going to show their children to achieve and that will move through generations. They want to be successful and accomplished. They've had to deal with a lot of issues but they are going to be stronger for it."

Student Colleen Bernhardt said being a single mom, she wanted training to secure a steady job.

"I heard about the program and it sounded interesting. I thought I could do it, and I like the medical field," Bernhardt said. "I've learned a lot about dentistry, and it's good to be back in school again and have a curriculum."

Violet Anderson said she has been interested in dentistry since she was a small child, and has enjoyed the program.

"I like to help and I know how important it is to have a beautiful smile," Anderson said. "It's been really exciting and we have a really good instructor."

Cavanaugh said getting the program off the ground since late last year has been a tedious process and the first classexperiences experimentation in the classroom as the term progresses.

"It's just a lot of work. It's almost gets to the point of nausea," Cavanaugh said.

"The paperwork sits on your desk and the only way tot get through it is to drudge through it all. I just want the students to succeed. The name of the game is education."

A small graduation ceremony is planned for this month for the women completing the dental assistant program. They are then eligible to take a separate test to become a dental health aide II. Cavanaugh said the purpose of the program is train people to help them find good jobs and be of service to the community.

"This is career changing and impacting for them to drudge through this program, and education is fundamental to that," Cavanaugh said. "That's the beauty of this is the employment aspect."