FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Dental Health Activity officials at Fort Leonard Wood have announced the application deadline for the winter/spring Dental Assistant Training Program has been extended to Feb. 28.
The free program — run in conjunction with the American Red Cross — is a six-month, 40 hours per week course that combines classroom instruction and hands-on basic education and clinical skills experience. The program is designed to provide the training and credentials necessary to work in any Department of Defense dental treatment facility and many civilian clinics, said Capt. Kyle Leach, a dentist at Roll Dental Clinic.
“The Red Cross Dental Assistant Program is great for anyone who has ever thought they may be interested in working in the dental field,” he said. “Typical civilian dental assistant programs take one to two years to complete and cost thousands of dollars.”
The program is open to any U.S. citizen 18 years and older with a high school or GED diploma and a DOD ID card that grants them regular access to the installation, Leach said. Certificates earned at one location are honored throughout the DOD.
Gabrielle Evans was one of five people to graduate from the program on Friday.
“The dental field has always been interesting to me,” she said. “Being a military brat and spouse, I always try to find opportunities to work with military families. I previously worked with military children at various child development centers and loved working with the families. I felt that this program was a perfect mixture of continuing to work toward my end goal of working in the dental field, but also still working with military families.”
Evans said the curriculum is organized in a very logical manner, including an instructional portion at the beginning designed to provide background knowledge of general dental terms, policies and procedures, infection control and patient safety.
“This section alone is crucial for determining if dental assisting is the right path for someone,” Evans said. “The hands-on experience for six months is another strength. The best way to learn as an assistant is to work hands on and see what works for you and the dentist you are working with at that time. For myself, learning hands on is one of the best ways I can learn and be able to retain the information given. Not only are you assisting with the dentist by passing him or her instruments and materials, but you are right with him or her, watching the entire procedure and learning why certain instruments or materials are required at that moment.”
One thing that helped make the program a little easier, Evans said, was the support from everyone at the two clinics where she studied — individuals in the program here typically train at both the Roll and Boak clinics.
“There were a tremendous amount of dental assistants, dentists and members of leadership who were more than willing to give us a baseline of dental knowledge that would help us once we started assisting chairside,” she said. “By the end of the program, speaking with dental terminology became another language for me and my fellow graduates.”
Kimberly Litzinger is a dental assistant at Roll, who graduated from the program in 2016. She said she decided to apply when she was working a “minimum-wage job” and didn’t want to continue going into debt paying for higher education.
“It looked like a really good opportunity to get an actual skill set,” she said. “It was completely free and only required I sacrifice 1,000 hours of my time. It also gave me a really good chance of getting a job on post in a professional working environment; it didn’t require any previous schooling; and it paid a decent wage.”
Everyone associated with the program was really helpful and clearly “wanted us to succeed,” Litzinger said.
“(The dentists) were always happy to go into in-depth explanations as to why they were doing things the way there were, which really helped me to become a good dental assistant,” she added.
Leach said that while completion of the program does not guarantee employment, all graduates are encouraged to apply anyway, as, historically, many of the past graduates were selected for hire within Fort Leonard Wood’s dental clinics.
“Currently, there are multiple dental assistant jobs open within Fort Leonard Wood, as well as the surrounding area,” Leach said.
The program is worth it, Litzinger said.
“I know six months is a long time, but in the end, it’s 100 percent worth it,” she said. “I enjoy being able to help the Soldiers here. Whether it’s fixing their smile, or getting them out of pain, you meet a lot of good people.”
There are many rewarding aspects to being a dental assistant, Evans added.
“One of the most rewarding is seeing patients reacting to their finished treatment,” she said. “The gratitude and excitement the patients share with the dental team is rewarding within itself. To know that you were the reason someone can show off a brand new smile, boost his or her self-esteem and help the military is quite fulfilling.”
Anyone interested in applying for the program is encouraged to call Jason Ramlow at 816.536.0108, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.