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Preparing Dental Hygiene Students to Fill Hygienist Shortage

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TSTC Dental Hygiene student Alexis Garcia (right) uses a scaler instrument to practice cleaning teeth on Hilary Navarro, an incoming Dental Hygiene fall semester student, during a recent lab session. (Photo courtesy of TSTC.)
TSTC Dental Hygiene student Alexis Garcia (right) uses a scaler instrument to practice cleaning teeth on Hilary Navarro, an incoming Dental Hygiene fall semester student, during a recent lab session. (Photo courtesy of TSTC.)

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HARLINGEN, Texas – Texas State Technical College’s Dental Hygiene program is training students to meet the need for workers in Texas. 

According to a recent American Dental Association report, the dental sector is facing a serious workforce shortage. Vacant positions in dental assisting and dental hygiene have reduced dental practice capacity by an estimated 10% nationally.

Marcus Capetillo, of Raymondville, is a third-semester Dental Hygiene student at TSTC. He said the hygienist shortage is creating promising job opportunities for upcoming program  graduates.

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“This program helps to transition each student to become a professional,” he said. “I plan to take my experience into the workforce and ensure patient education. It’s imperative that people learn about the importance of maintaining healthy teeth outside of a clinic.”

Capetillo developed an interest in the dental field through his brother.

“I’m following my brother’s footsteps because he graduated from the same program in 2019,” he said. “He paved the way and I like the fact that I can get a job anywhere as a hygienist.”

Laura Trevino, of Rio Hondo, said this situation motivates her to become one of the best hygienists.

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“It will allow me to provide the best optimal care for the community,” she said. “I’ve worked as a dental assistant, and I’ve gained insight about dental services in the community. I learned that many patients don’t know what a dental hygienist is because they’ve never had a service provided by that professional.”

She added the medical field became her calling after high school.

“I knew I wanted to help the community more and that’s why I chose this program,” she said.

Raquel Rico, TSTC’s Dental Hygiene program director in Harlingen, said the primary focus of the program’s education is about hands-on training.

“The students appreciate that our program is hands-on driven,” she said. “We provide a lot of one-on-one patient care in our on-site clinic. Students provide hands-on treatment service to patients for 128 hours in the first semester, followed by 160 hours in the second semester, 176 hours in the third semester, and 224 hours in the final two semesters. We don’t allow for mistakes and every student process is reviewed by an instructor. If a student does not perform a process correctly, we give them an opportunity to redo it and get it right.”

Rico added students are sent to external rotations in the final semester.

“This year our students have been sent to six area dental offices such as Los Ebanos Family Dentistry, Lower Valley Dental Associates, RGV Pediatric Dentistry, Su Clinica Brownsville, Su Clinica Raymondville, and Valley Family Dentistry,” she said. “Each business said they were impressed with the work that each student provided.”

According to onetonline.org, dental hygienists in Texas can earn an average annual salary of $79,660. The need for hygienists in the state is expected to grow 32% by 2030.

TSTC offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Dental Hygiene at the Harlingen campus.

Registration for TSTC’s fall semester is underway. For more information, visit tstc.edu.

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