Dental assisting students at North Platte Community College have been gaining real-world experience by volunteering on a reservation in South Dakota.
Two of them Kaytlynn Spellman and Paula Fritz, both of North Platte, just returned from volunteering at the St. Francis Mission Dental Clinic in St. Francis, S.D. Another group is headed to the clinic in October.
“The clinic reached out to us to see if we had any students that could go up there,” said Jess Grasmick, dental assisting instructor. “We had one student who went after graduation in the spring, and then Kaytlynn and Paula went up for one day on Sept. 18.”
Located on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the St. Francis Mission Dental Clinic provides dental care to the Lakota people with the help of volunteer dentists and assistants.
According to the clinic’s website, a recent American Dental Association study found that 90 percent of the Lakota people on Rosebud Reservation have chronic tooth decay or gum disease. The dental health crisis is the result of living in one of the poorest counties in the U.S.
The clinic is trying to remedy the issue by providing services such as dental exams, x-rays, fillings, cleanings, treatments, follow-up checkups and education in preventive care.
“Our students did everything a chair-side assistant would do,” said Grasmick. “They helped with fillings, they disinfected rooms, they entered notes, one sat in on a crown and another assisted with an extraction. It was a great opportunity for them to utilize the skills they’ve been learning about in the classroom in a real-life setting, and it gave them a sneak peek at what they will be doing next semester in clinicals and during the summer in clinical rotations.”
Fritz enjoyed everything about the experience – from traveling and bonding with Spellman to practicing on real people and feeling like she was making a difference.
“Working with real people is so different from working on mannequins in class,” said Fritz. “I had fun trying to manipulate the tongues and cheeks. If I had the opportunity to go there again I absolutely would. The people on the reservation were very appreciative of us. They were kind and welcoming even though we were just students. It was a great time.”
Four more students from NPCC will volunteer at the clinic Oct. 14-18.