For students training to become dental assistants, the Charlottesville Albemarle Technical Education Center hopes to soon offer a more realistic, hands-on experience in the classroom, said Adam Hastings, center director.
The center’s board, made up of members of Charlottesville and Albemarle County’s school boards, recently voted to buy about $21,000 worth of new equipment for the program.
“This will give students an opportunity to learn in the classroom with real equipment and apply what they’ve learned in practice,” said Rosa S. Atkins, superintendent of city schools.
The purchase includes a fully functional dental chair, complete with X-ray equipment, a sanitizer and running water, Hastings said.
“All of the things that would be a part of the chair you sit in at your dentist’s office,” he said. “What this does is take the current classroom, with a chair that’s plugged into the wall but not functional, and turn that into a practical laboratory space.”
The dental assistance program requires students to demonstrate a variety of competencies and skills, which are best learned with hands-on experience, Hastings said.
“The more real we make the training in the classroom, the more success students will have in the real world,” he said.
In addition to mastering state-mandated competencies, students in the program complete coursework to receive certificates in X-ray processing and infection control.
As dental assistants, graduates of the program aid dental hygienists in cleanings, process X-rays and set up trays for appointments, Hastings said.
Hastings said the center plans to make the equipment available for the 15 students currently enrolled in CATEC’s high school and adult dental assistant programs, which run for one year and 12 weeks, respectively.
He said the equipment will take about a week to install. To minimize classroom disruption, the center plans to install the equipment while students are completing clinical rotations in local dentists’ offices and clinics.
The board also considered a proposal to create a dental clinic at the center for a cost of about $47,000.
CATEC would be able to provide some dental care for patients, Hastings said.
“It is an ideal situation in the event of unlimited money,” he said. “It would be terrific to have a clinic here at CATEC.”
Hastings recommended the center purchase the $21,000 worth of equipment now and expand in the future if interest in the program grows.
Charlottesville School Board member Willa Neale said she hopes to eventually see the program expand.
“There’s such a need for dental care,” she said. “That’s a problem in our community.”