Ann Arbor, MI — April 29, 2014 — For the fifth consecutive year, a student in the University of Michigan School of Dentistry’s dental hygiene program has won a first place award from the American Association of Public Health Dentistry for her efforts to enhance oral health in a community.
Laura Hettinger received the Dental Hygiene Student Merit Award for Outstanding Achievement in Community Health Dentistry during the organization’s annual session in Fort Worth, Texas. An adjunct faculty member at Parkland Community College in Champaign, Illinois, Hettinger will receive her Bachelor of Science degree in August after successfully finishing the Degree Completion (online) E-Learning Program.
For her community health project, Hettinger developed an oral health and perinatal education program for the Frances Nelson Health Center in Champaign, a Federally Qualified Health Center that provides both medical and dental care to the underserved in Champaign County. After learning of the need for more preventive dental care, Hettinger developed a six-week program to educate patients, especially pregnant mothers, about the importance of proper oral health care, not just for themselves, but their children. The importance of regular checkups was noted, as well as the dangers of misusing sippy cups and excessive consumption of sugary drinks.
Hettinger also took time to educate the medical staff. Physicians, nurses and nurses’ assistants learned about major risk factors for caries and periodontal disease. Part of those educational efforts included photographic slides that showed caries, gingivitis, and the signs and stages of periodontal disease.
“I’m very happy with the results,” Hettinger said. “There is an urgent need in this area for preventive dental care. Since most patients did not have a dentist, we helped them find a dental home. Some of the patients even walked down the hall with me to make an appointment at the dental center and were seen that same day.” Also rewarding, she added, was that the medical staff gained a greater understanding of the importance of oral health care knowledge, demonstrating the value of interprofessional collaboration and communication to help patients.
Dental hygiene director Janet Kinney lauded Hettinger’s work. “Laura’s project was exceptional, and her contributions to other health care professionals were also significant.