Students of Etobicoke Collegiate's dental assisting program have a good reason to smile.
Not only do they know what it takes to have a great looking set of pearly whites, but the students get a leg up in the job market, walking away with a certification that makes them employable when the graduate from high school.
"It's a great program for the kids," said Stephanie Davenport, a teacher in the dental assisting class at ECI. "They learn what college students learn in two years, whereas the college program is a year."
According to Davenport, the same certification through a college could cost anywhere between $7,000 and $15,000 while at ECI, the program is free.
According to Bernadette Glover, a registered dental hygienist who currently heads the class, Etobicoke Collegiate has offered a dental assisting program for 50 years. For most of that period, it was under the guidance of a dentist who was replaced by a nurse when he retired. Glover took over two years ago.
During a recent free mouth-guard clinic, students mixed alginate, a seaweed-based compression material used to take a negative impression of a patient's mouth while across the room several student athletes waited patiently to have their impression taken.
Glover believes the program is especially beneficial because students can apply what they've learned immediately after high school.
"Students can transfer what they've learned right away into the real world," she said on Thursday, rotating between students and patients. "It's not just something they have to learn."
After completion of the two-year program, students can pass a certification exam with the Ontario Dental Assistants Association (ODAA), the certifying body for dental assistants and become HARP (Healing Arts Radiation Protection) certified Level 1 Dental Assistants.
Level 1 Dental Assistants perform a number of tasks including the suctioning of oral cavities, preparation of filling materials and sterilization.
"Etobicoke is the last high school to offer this program in Ontario," Judy Melville, Executive Director of the ODAA, told The Guardian, adding that ECI's Dental Assisting program is ODAA-approved. "There were a number of high schools before that offered that program but Etobicoke is the last one to do it," she said.
According to the ODAA, dental assistants in Ontario are not recognized as 'Regulated Health Professionals' under the Regulated Health Professions Act (RHPA) meaning that untrained staff may work as dental assistants. The ODAA is currently working with the Ontario government to have dental assistant recognized as a regulated profession.
At Thursday's free mouth guard clinic, students assisted with every step involved in properly manufacturing a custom mouth guard from the sterilization to educating patients on proper oral hygiene and care.
"It's a great idea and not very many schools have a dental program but our school is one of the lucky ones," said Danisha Payne, a Grade 11 student who was having an impression taken of her mouth.
The classroom facilities at ECI include several dental chairs, and separate sterilization and x-ray rooms. First-year students train on a dummy before working on actual patients.
"I think it's amazing because it's such a good opportunity," said first-year student, Rachel Gregoire of the class. "Right after school I'm set, I can get a job right away."
A recent amendment to the Dental Hygiene Act allows dental hygienists to self-initiate, meaning they can see patients on their own and don't need pre-approval from a dentist.
"As a Registered Dental Hygienists with the designation to self-initiate, students assist me and are able to practice their skills in live situations, which has a much higher learning value," said Glover. She believes education is best achieved through community involvement because it provides hands-on leaning opportunities which better prepare students before they attend work placements.
"Our community can be very proud of the many supportive and wonderful dental offices that accept our student volunteers that continue to help tremendously in their education," she said. "In the future I hope to expand and provide care to seniors, children and others who are not often able to access basic oral care."
The dental assisting program at ECI is currently accepting students for September, 2008.