In a couple of years, Tam Pham-Dao plans to lean over patients, ask them to open their mouths and show their pearly whites.
The Chandler mother is among 18 students at Mesa Community College this year who will start working toward a certificate permitting them to clean and check teeth.
It’s part of a new dental hygienist program at the college, which starts this fall. Those selected for the program have at least a 3.0 grade-point average in prerequisite science courses. And they beat out 44 other applicants for a spot.
Who knew so many would be tickled about teeth?
Students in the program can get a certificate and associate’s degree in dental hygiene in two years, or an associate’s in dental assisting in two semesters. Like most specialized programs, though, they must complete general education prerequisites before enrolling in the dental courses.
The program was proposed last year by Joseph Pearson, dean of MCC’s extended campus. MCC wants to fill a rising need for dental hygienists, he said.
Nearly 5,200 dental assistants and 1,700 hygienists were working in Arizona in 2003, according to state labor statistics. The state will need about 5,200 more dental assistants and 1,400 hygienists by 2013 to keep pace with the area’s population growth and changes in dental care needs.
Dr. Dan Haney, a dentist from Sedona, said he lucked out when he hired a dental hygienist who loyally worked with him for 12 years. He often heard other fellow dentists complaining that hygienists were scarce.
"There’s always been a shortage," Haney said.
His daughter, Brandy Young, 21, is hoping to help fill the void. After halting her business coursework at Arizona State University, she’s joined the MCC hygienist program.
MCC is among a halfdozen other Arizona schools - including Rio Salado College, an East Valley online institution - that offer a hygienist certificate.
But Pearson said MCC’s program is unique because it joins with the Mesa-based Arizona School of Dentistry & Oral Health, the state’s only dental school, to get the students hands-on experience in a clinical setting designed like a dental office.