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Lake Area Technical College to Launch Dental Hygiene Program

Posted on: June 18, 2024   |   Category: News
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For Immediate Release
June 18, 2024

WATERTOWN, SD – Lake Area Technical College (LATC) is expanding its renowned healthcare education offerings with the approval of a new Associate of Applied Science (AAS) program in Dental Hygiene to begin in fall 2025. This initiative marks a significant milestone for the college, which was the first and only in the state to successfully operate and maintain a CODA-accredited Dental Assisting program for 56 years.

The approval of the Dental Hygiene program comes as a response to the growing demand for skilled dental hygienists in the region. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Lightcast, the employment of dental hygienists in South Dakota is projected to grow 6.9 percent from 2023 to 2033, faster than the average for all occupations. When upcoming retirements and natural job turnover is factored in, there will be a 13.61% increase in the employment of dental hygienists in South Dakota between 2020-2030 (Bureau of Labor Statistics).  

Nicole Pahl, director of the Dental Assisting program, expressed her enthusiasm for the new program, “The addition of the Dental Hygiene program aligns with our mission to provide a superior, comprehensive technical education that meets the needs of our community and industry partners. Our long-standing success in Dental Assisting has paved the way for this new endeavor, and we are committed to upholding the same standards of excellence.”

LATC’s Dental Assisting program, a cornerstone of the college’s healthcare education, will operate as the first step for the new Dental Hygiene program. The Dental Assisting program has a storied history of preparing students for successful careers, with a curriculum that emphasizes both the clinical and administrative aspects of dental care. The Dental Hygiene program will be the second step if students choose to continue their education after completing the Dental Assisting program. The program will uphold the high standards of LATC and the profession, by providing curriculum that utilizes the newly renovated “state of art” LATC Dental Clinic. The clinic facilities include 14 simulation stations for pre-clinic skills and 10 dental operatories with Nitrous Oxide, radiography equipment, a sterilization center, and a full dental laboratory.

The Dental Hygiene curriculum will equip students with the elevated theoretical knowledge and practical skills required of a dental hygienist. Once the student completes the Dental Assisting AAS degree, they can apply to continue for an additional year of instruction to obtain their Dental Hygiene AAS degree. The program will comprise a comprehensive curriculum, including advanced oral anatomy, periodontology, preventative dental health, radiography, instrumentation, ethical conduct, and community dental health issues. Students will also gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations, allowing them to apply their learning in real-world settings under the supervision of local experienced professionals.

The 1 + 1 design of the Dental Hygiene AAS degree is unique. Dental Hygiene graduates from LATC will earn two degrees, an AAS in Dental Assisting and an AAS in Dental Hygiene, in only three years. Furthermore, graduates will be more flexible in their job role by providing both dental assisting and dental hygiene skills as the office needs.

The introduction of the Dental Hygiene program is expected to have a positive impact on the local community as well. By training more dental hygienists, LATC aims to improve access to dental care, LATC will be working to establish and maintain partnerships with area dentists to accommodate students’ clinical hours and skills. Contact Nicole Pahl with any questions or interest in being a clinical site.

Applications for the Dental Hygiene program will be accepted beginning fall of 2024 with the first cohort set to begin classes in the fall of 2025.