Dental Hygiene Students—Filling a Need, Enriching Their Learning

December 10, 2012

For two and a half days, a community health unit bustled with people. In the front hall, patients were triaged and volunteer dental students and supervising dentists treated patients’ oral health needs.

And, in an office, with one dental chair, two volunteer dental hygiene students were stationed. For Kim Nguyen and Sayena Faraji, second- and third-year dental hygiene students respectively, this was the highlight of their school year.

“We were perhaps the busiest volunteers,” says Sayena, a second-time volunteer on the annual trip to serve west-coast First Nation communities. “After triage and assessment, the people came to us for dental hygiene care—we treated over 70 people.”

In 2010 and 2011, UBC Dentistry alumni, student volunteers and faculty members volunteered at a clinic for the Penelakut First Nation on Penelakut Island, located east of Chemainus. This past July, the volunteer clinic moved to Chemainus, on Vancouver Island. The change of location allowed the clinic to serve a greater number of First Nations groups through H’ulh-etun Health Society. Not only the Penelakut, but also the Halalt, Lyackson and Malahat First Nations were able to access the clinic’s basic restorative and preventive dentistry services, including simple endodontic work, extractions and scaling. “It was my first time,” says Kim, “and the pace picked up fast.” At first she found it nervewracking to have to complete a patient’s care every hour. She also worried about her skill level, but quickly credits Cathy Chatten, a volunteer dental hygienist, with providing excellent guidance.

Dental Hygiene - Chemainus

Both Kim and Sayena had “wow” moments. Sayena gained insight into changing the way education of the patient is done—basically, adapting the information and how it is given, within a holistic context, to suit the individual patient. “You take into account their history and you gain a sensitivity to delivering information so it’s not so top-down. You deliver it in a way that can be processed by the patient.”

Along with doing actual procedures, Kim found the experience “really eye opening” because of the range of patients, from nine-year-olds to 60-year-olds. Hearing patients’ life stories significantly broadened her outlook on the uniqueness of each and every patient. The patients were also very appreciative of her work, which made the experience particularly rewarding.

On campus, the focus is on the protocols of the clinic, but valuable perspectives that continue after graduation are learned through working in the community. “It makes you a well-rounded future health professional—you know what’s out there beyond a clinical practice setting,” says Sayena, who would like to pursue a master’s degree in public health.“People think that once you graduate all you do is go into clinical practice, but there are so many more opportunities in the community.” Likewise, Kim has enjoyed working with people who do not have access to primary care and sees herself branching off from ordinary clinic work. And she plans to continue volunteering at clinics during her next two years of school.

Dental Hygiene - Chemainus

Both agree that all dental hygiene students would benefit from this volunteer experience— especially from working with dental students, observing and assisting with suctioning. “We saw a lot of procedures like restorations and endodontics, and they needed us to perform local anaesthetics,” Sayena says. She noted that there is a lot of need for primary care during a volunteer clinic, so more dental hygiene volunteers would be very welcome.

Kim and Sayena have encouraging advice for future volunteer dental hygiene students: step out of your comfort zone, try new things, don’t be scared to ask questions because there is always help at hand, don’t worry about skill level, and above all, enjoy the experience. The Chemainus volunteer clinic is made possible with support of the Rotary Club of Chemainus, the Rotary Club of Steveston and the Dental Mission Project Society. “Adoptive Rotary parents” hosted volunteers in their homes.


Bob Blacker, Dr. Bill Brymer (faculty), Coco Butler DMD 2013, Kathy Chatten, Natalie Chaudhary DMD 2014, Joanne Dawson, Sayena Faraji BDSc 2013, Flore-Anne Foellmi DMD 2013, Cameron Garrett DMD 2012, Dustin George DMD 2011, David Hemerling DMD 1993, Elizabeth Johnson-Lee DMD 1992, Kim Nguyen BDSc 2014, Doug Nielsen DMD 1972, Susan Nielsen, Jon Paxon DMD 2013, Mike Stearns DMD 2014, Jason Tao DMD 2013, Akash Villing DMD 2013, and Erica Wang DMD 2013.

Return to more feature stories.