Bulletin of Dental Education

New Mexico State University – Doña Ana Community College Perseveres Through Pandemic

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The New Mexico State University – Doña Ana Community College (NMSU-DACC) dental hygiene program was established in 2007 and graduated its first class in 2009. The program has undergone significant transformation and growth in the last five years, growing from one dental clinic with a limited patient base to expanding its services to communities in need. The dental hygiene program has added several clinics equipped with mobile equipment in Doña Ana County. Dental hygiene students, supervised by faculty members, train and provide services at the mobile clinics. DACC students and faculty members refer people who need restorative dental care to community dental partners, public and private, that provide this care. All of this is made possible with financial investments from corporate and community partners, such as Delta Dental of New Mexico, Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico, the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico and others.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced public schools in New Mexico to close, DACC dental hygiene students visited Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces weekly to serve middle school students. Before students began learning remotely in March 2020, DACC performed preventive dental hygiene services, including cleanings, fluoride, tobacco cessation and nutritional counseling as related to oral health for dozens of students, and provided oral health care kits and oral health education to hundreds more children. During the COVID 19 pandemic, the services to these children continue to be offered at the main dental hygiene student clinic free of charge and once the public schools open back again, the dental hygiene program will reopen its operations at the school-based clinic at Lynn Middle School.

Courtesy of New Mexico State University
– Doña Ana Community College

Building on this successful partnership, in 2020 DACC expanded the model to other low-income populations. Despite COVID-19-related challenges, DACC launched new clinics equipped with mobile equipment in the following locations:

  • Anthony, NM: In a community where more than 40% of the 9,400 residents live under the poverty level (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020), the dental hygiene program opened a clinic using mobile equipment in September 2020. The clinic is at DACC’s Gadsden campus, which eliminates building rental costs and serves the student population from the Gadsden, Chaparral and Sunland Park campuses. In addition, this clinic offers community services to pregnant women and children and aims to expand services to the general population once a patient base has been established.
  • Amador Health Center: Amador provides health care services to homeless/near-homeless people in Las Cruces. In August 2020, DACC began partnering with Amador to fill a critical health care gap by bringing dental hygiene services to the center. Currently, a registered dental hygienist cares for Amador clients once a week (most clients are adults and many have not received oral health care in quite some time). In 2021—when it is safe to do so—DACC dental hygiene students will begin training weekly at the Amador clinic to reach more clients. Longer term, the project would like to hire a part-time dentist to provide additional care.
  • Jardin de los Niños: Provides child and developmental care to children in families who are homeless/near-homeless. DACC worked with Jardin to secure grant funding to open a mobile clinic. The clinic opening was delayed slightly because of COVID-19 and is scheduled to begin providing free weekly services in December 2020. DACC initially anticipates providing dental examinations to about 50 children and working with a dentist to provide necessary follow-up care.

There is no doubt that the COVID 19 pandemic has brought many challenges, but DACC remains committed to supporting its students achieve excellent skills while providing services to the community at large and those at risk. To mitigate some of the challenges brought by the pandemic, the program has provided students with PAPRs, high-level PPE, and strict protocols to safely open and continue their education. The program has also reduced patient fees to a minimum to assist those who are struggling financially and help students recruit more patients.  

The DACC dental hygiene program also provides students with the opportunity to travel abroad to provide access to care to communities in need while students enhance their clinical, social and cultural skills. The program conducted service-learning projects in India 2018, serving more than 2,000 individuals, and Costa Rica in 2020, reaching over 500 individuals.

Published on January 13, 2021

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