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NEWS | April 30, 2015

JB Charleston's newest dental hygienists graduate AF sponsored program

By Senior Airman Jared Trimarchi Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

Three Airmen completed a two-year dental hygiene program April 29, 2015 at Trident Technical College in Charleston, S.C. The program is part of the Air Force sponsored dental hygiene training scholarship program.

Technical Sgt. Terina Waiganjo and Staff Sgts. Sandy Molina and Hollynd Walker became the Air Force's newest dental hygienists by earning their associates degrees and passing the Dental Hygiene National Board Exam and state board examinations for licensure.

The program, which began in 2008, currently allows four dental assistants, staff sergeants and above, to attend Trident Technical College full time while remaining on active duty.

"This is a wonderful program which is considered to be one of the best in the nation," said Master Sgt. Caroline Bunce. "It increases the capabilities of dental care we can provide to our military members." Bunce is the 628th Aerospace Medicine Squadron dental flight NCO in charge that is the liaison between the military students and the school.

Dental hygienists differ from dental assistants by providing specialized care such as examining teeth and gums, cleaning patient's teeth, applying preventative treatments and administering local anesthetics.

Each year active duty dental assistants throughout the Air Force apply for the program. Application requirements include meeting with a board, completing all required prerequisite courses and having a competitive grade point average. There are only two dental hygiene programs in the Air Force; the other is located in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Colonel Michael Cunningham, Air Force Dental Corps director and Air Force Medical Service Recruitment and Force Sustainment chief, congratulated the graduates and looks forward to future accomplishments from the new hygienists, he said.

"We are proud to foster highly qualified Airmen who will provide outstanding support to ensure our force is mission capable and ready for deployment," Cunningham said. 

According to Bunce, civilian hygienists who work for the Air Force cannot deploy or work in remote locations. The Air Force currently has 60 active duty hygienists who are readily deployable throughout the world to provide healthy oral care for Airmen.

"Our newest hygienists have broadened their skills and capabilities and are ready to enhance the dental care for our service members worldwide," Bunce said. "We currently have four other Airmen who are set to graduate next year who are doing really well so far in the program."

During the program, students are required to work in a dental clinic to ensure skills taught in the classroom are perfected and applied to actual patients. The three military students conducted their clinical trials on the base with military members in need of dental care.

"Our dental flight has a wonderful relationship with the faculty at Trident Technical College and we look forward to working with them in the future to produce more highly qualified hygienists," Bunce said.