Burlington County College's dental hygiene program gives back to the community

Fina Saunders, a teacher in and graduate of the dental hygiene program, cleans 10-year-old Sophia Argueta's teeth.
Fina Saunders, a teacher in and graduate of the dental hygiene program, cleans 10-year-old Sophia Argueta's teeth.
Posted: February 03, 2013

Fina Saunders peered into a 9-year-old's mouth Friday in the dental hygiene clinic where she learned her craft, teaches it to the next generation, and, once a year, gives it away.

A 2008 graduate of Burlington County College's dental hygiene program, Saunders is one of several alumni who return to campus each February for the school's Give Kids a Smile Day, which offers free dental care to uninsured or underinsured children.

"I've always decided that [Give Kids a Smile Day] was something I'm going to do," the 44-year-old hygienist said, crediting an ethic of volunteerism the college instilled in her. "They want you to do community service, public health."

The American Dental Association program takes place at thousands of sites nationally, including more than 130 in New Jersey, said BCC's dental hygiene program director, Linda Hecker.

BCC began participating in 2005, when its dental hygiene program started. Students in the two-year associate of applied science in dental hygiene program are required to participate, Hecker said, though only licensed professionals perform procedures.

By 2012, the school's volunteers - including students at Burlington County Institute of Technology and dentists from around the community - had seen 999 children younger than 12 and performed more than 6,000 procedures worth almost $500,000.

Dawn Hampton, 34, of Vineland, N.J., called her first volunteer experience wonderful. "I was proud to participate in my community and in my school," she said.

Fellow 2008 graduate Renee Batdorf, 37, said Friday's pro bono work made sense compared with other forms of volunteerism.

"It's probably easier, because you know what to do," she said. In addition, she said, working with children is fun because she usually works with adults.

Saunders returned to the school soon after graduating, becoming a clinical adjunct professor. Because so many alumni return each year, she said, the day becomes a de facto reunion. She not only works side by side with her classmates, including Hampton and Batdorf, but with former students.

About 125 people volunteered Friday, including the school's 42 dental hygiene students, serving 99 children. Some children needed more work than could be done on the spot, Hecker said, and the volunteers were often overheard telling parents to bring children into their offices for free follow-up visits.

Part of Give Kids a Smile Day is educational outreach, for both kids and adults.

"I think kids listen better than adults," Batdorf said quietly, lowering her voice to keep from offending parents nearby. "They look right at you, and they're more excited."

Contact Jonathan Lai at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.

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