College dental hygiene program delayed

Certification process can take 18 months

PORT ANGELES — Peninsula College’s planned start of its dental hygiene program has been pushed back to fall 2024 due to an accreditation process that has turned out to be far longer and more complex than it had anticipated, officials said.

In the interim, the college is continuing its preparations to once again offer a degree for the first time since its partnership with Pierce College in Lakewood to offer a two-year dental hygiene program that ended 10 years ago.

Mia Boster, the college’s dean of workforce education and its accreditation liaison officer, said the lengthy CODA — the American Dental Association’s Commission on Dental Accreditation — asks questions such as how the program will connect to the ADA’s competencies, learning outcomes and expectations.

The college will be required to provide details about the program’s resources, curriculum and policies. Then it will receive a CODA site visit during which administrators and instructors are interviewed, and then it will have to wait for the results.

That the CODA team only meets twice a year adds to the wait time that can be as long as 18 months.

“There’s a lot more to it than you think when you first see it,” Boster said of the application.

Paula Watson, the college’s dental hygiene program director who arrived on campus in September, said: “We’ve already had our initial application accepted by the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, so we’ve ticked that box, but we can’t even start recruiting students until we receive accreditation.”

Dental hygiene classes will be held in the Allied Health and Early Childhood Development Center. The goal is to both train dental hygienists who can find employment upon completion of the program as well as provide basic dental care, like teeth cleaning, to the community. There will be 10 students in the program.

An advisory board composed of about 20 local dental professionals has been lending advice and guidance in developing the program that will train dental hygienists who are in demand, not just locally but statewide.

Bracken Killpack, executive director of the Washington State Dental Association (WSDA), said a shortage of dental hygienists and assistants that was a problem before the pandemic has only increased in its wake.

One of the solutions WSDA has pursued is partnering with organizations like the state Board for Community Technical Colleges to find ways to expand dental hygiene training in the state, Killpack said. Peninsula College was one of the schools it reached out to.

“Peninsula College has been very forward-thinking in how they want to design their program,” Killpack said. “I really appreciated that they’ve been figuring out what they need rather than copying how other programs do it. They’re embedding prerequisites or training requirements into the curriculum itself versus loading up the number of courses that people have to take.”

Dental hygiene programs are expensive to build, operate and maintain, Boster said, so the college is looking at grant funding and working with WSDA as it moves forward.

“We’re just really excited about it, and what’s really important is we’re bringing training and dental health care services to the community and it’s really about a community need,” Boster said. “There really is a need for more dental hygienists. And so we’re excited to meet that.”

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Reporter Paula Hunt can be reached at paula.hunt@soundpublishing.com.

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