Katie Marzolf-Harstad, a graduate of Fillmore Central, is currently participating in the program that offers dental services to area residents at a reduced rate.
Katie Marzolf-Harstad, a graduate of Fillmore Central, is currently participating in the program that offers dental services to area residents at a reduced rate.
In America, dental hygiene is often emphasized through yearly check-ups, x-rays and proper brushing several times a day. Many men and women across the country have found their niche in the practice of promoting proper dental hygiene and helping individuals care for their teeth. One such person is Katie Marzolf-Harstad from Preston.

Marzolf-Harstad graduated from Fillmore Central in 2002 and continued her education at the University of Tennessee until she graduated with a chemistry degree in 2007. During college, she found she would rather travel a different avenue for her career and became a dental assistant in 2009 through the Rochester Community and Technical College (RCTC).

As a result of her participation in the dental program, she discovered how much she enjoyed this area of expertise. "I found I loved the patient interaction in this field," she stated.

She soon realized her desire to further herself in the dental realm. Marzolf-Harstad began a two-year program in 2012 and will graduate this May.

This program offers a unique experience for students preparing to become registered hygienists. It is divided into two separate sections for time spent in the classroom and hands-on experience with patients in the clinic.

"I like the combination of classroom and clinic because you work with instruments right away," she explained. "This way, you can decide if you really want to go on in this career or not and you would not have to wait until after graduation. The clinical portion is also made to feel like you are working for a real dental clinic."

Marzolf-Harstad also explained those within the program are further divided into first-year and second-year students, usually with 16 students within one group. The ages of the students in the groups often vary. Of course, the personalities also range widely. However, within such a small group, close friendships have also resulted.

During the first semester of the program, a dental student is required to treat 12 patients, but with the progression of the program, the number of patients increases. The type of need for the patients also changes. Those with more advanced needs participate with students who are farther along in the program.

Because the license acquired through this program is limited to the preventative side of dentistry, the students do not perform any restorative work on their patients. Rather, over the course of their clinical experiences, students will expose x-rays, cleanings, whitening, scaling and root planning and fluoride application. Nitrous oxide and local anesthetic are available for those who would need or prefer it. These services are all performed at a reduced rate compared to a private practice, Marzolf-Harstad noted.

The instructors of the program teach the students from a first-hand perspective. "Most of the instructors are practicing currently and not teaching on experience based on the past. Their experience is relevant and current, which helps us to take their advice, recommendations and input to heart even more," Marzolf-Harstad said.

Several different promotions have been used to attract different people to receive dental care at a reduced rate. Some of these in the past have been free "bite-wings," buy one get one sealant free and, the latest one, free cleaning with a whitening purchase.

"With this promotion, a cleaning, which is $50 at RCTC, is free with the purchase of whitening, $150. This offers the patient a $50 savings. Keep in mind, alone at a private dental office, it can cost up to $150. This promotion, which lasts until May, offers both a cleaning and whitening for $150," Marzolf-Harstad described.

Though they are providing services for area residents who would appreciate the monetary discount, there are also opportunities for the students to do some volunteer work as a group through the Student American Dental Hygienists' Association (SADHA).

"We provided a Kid's Smile Day back in January as one of the volunteer projects in which we provided free dental care for those in need," she shared. "Throughout the year, we also visit schools in the area and educated students about dental health. And we have provided dental assistance at the Good Samaritan Dental Clinic which helps the community and the underserved within the community."

Because of the unique nature of this dental program, feedback is greatly appreciated. Several comments have been made about the thoroughness of the cleaning and it being much more than people are used to.

Marzolf-Harstad said this is because the students do the cleaning and the instructor comes to check the quality of the work. Each session has been allotted four hours if necessary, due to the checking by the instructor, but the cleanings do not always take that long.

"If you have the time to come in, it is beneficial for you to save money and receive a great cleaning," Marzolf-Harstad encouraged. "We will communicate with your home dentists and will send the x-rays and other information to them."

The clinic area is set up with 18 chairs so that if a family would come in, they would not have to wait for the next person's session after one has been completed. The design is set for the family to be able to receive the cleaning all at the same time.

Oftentimes, if the student is from the area, he or she may ask friends or relatives to participate in the program at some point. However, there are others who are not quite so fortunate.

"I am from the area and am fortunate to have family living in the area. They have supported me by agreeing to come in and be patients. My family has been tremendously supportive," Marzolf-Harstad stated. "But there is another student who is from out-of-state and does not know anyone here. In this case, there is a receptionist to call and schedule an appointment. The receptionist will assign the callers to those who need help with gathering patients."

As the program nears the end, Marzolf-Harstad will be taking the national board examination, which is the written exam to be taken in the second year of the program.

In addition, she must apply for and take the clinical examination for Minnesota in the Twin Cities to demonstrate what she has learned from the program. Afterwards, she hopes to remain in the area.

She encourages any who would like to become a patient or participate in the whitening promotion before it ends in May, to call the receptionists at RCTC by dialing (507) 280-3169. They will fit you into the students' schedule. The RCTC Dental Hygiene Clinic is open August to May and accepts all dental insurance.