College To Open Dental Program -- Hygienist Course Would Begin In Fall
KIRKLAND - Lake Washington Technical College has announced plans to open a dental-hygienist training program, the state's first new program in 22 years.
That the program, scheduled to open this fall, would attract students is guaranteed. The college already has received more than 350 phone calls asking about enrolling in the first 18-space class, according to program administrator Colleen Owings.
That graduating students would have jobs also is assured. A recent study by the Washington State Dental Association pegged the number of unfilled hygienist openings statewide at more than 300, with the largest percentage in King County.
And that the graduates would be well-paid also is a given. Hygienists earn between $22 and $35 an hour.
"That's the highest-paid occupation per hour coming out of a two-year technical program," said Donald Fowler, president of the technical college.
In addition, the facility would provide dental-hygiene services for low-income Eastside residents. Only seven chairs in two Eastside clinics specifically serve the estimated 2,688 patients who receive state-funded dental care.
Now the only potential impediment to the technical college's new program is money.
Fowler pegs the cost to build and equip the planned 30-chair training clinic at $1.1 million. A $450,000 grant, the largest ever awarded by the Washington Dental Service Foundation, is enough to begin remodeling and equipping the facility, he says.
"Now we need $650,000, which we'll raise through local fund raising or reprioritizing the college budget or by going to the Legislature," Fowler said.
"There's a big job left to do, but we believe it can be done because everyone is rallying around the fact that we're here to fill a need."
"The $450,000 that's been given to Lake Washington clearly reflects the kind of feeling and commitment the dental community has," said Dr. Terry Grubb, president of the dental association.
"It's been 22 years since the last program was established in the state, and clearly our population has grown in that time, as has the need."
Grubb says the growing emphasis on preventive dental care has placed more emphasis on the role of a hygienist.
With the opening of Lake Washington's program, the number of schools training dental hygienists in-state would grow to six. The only two programs locally are at Shoreline and Pierce County community colleges. The University of Washington closed its hygienist-training program several years ago.
Because Washington schools have not been able to train enough hygienists to meet the demand, the state recently began allowing the licensing of those trained elsewhere.
Fowler says Lake Washington Technical College decided to start the program because of the need and because it already operates programs to train dental assistants and office managers.
Plans are under way to combine the training of dental hygienists, assistants and office managers with the training of students attending the UW School of Dentistry.
Grubb thinks that would make the program unique in the Northwest.
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