“I was born in Puerto Rico, and came to Hartford in 1986 when I was 19 years old,” remembers Hector Maldonado, a graduate of the dental hygiene associate’s degree program at Tunxis Community College.

“I worked full time as an EMT at Saint Francis Hospital emergency during my first semester at Tunxis several years ago,” he continued. “The schedule was worth it, though, to stay at Tunxis and enter the dental hygiene profession.”

Dental hygienists are in high demand in Connecticut. Nationally, dental hygiene is among the 30 fastest growing occupations. Tunxis prepares students to fill the 130 new positions expected each year in Connecticut. At Tunxis, the only public college in Connecticut to offer a degree in dental hygiene, enrollment is always filled to capacity. The program is accredited by the American Dental Association.

Maldonado, along with Rosa Rosado and Mindy Ky, were among a diverse student body in dental hygiene at Tunxis. “I selected Tunxis because there was a wide range of patients and a diverse community on the rotations,” said Rosa Rosado, who graduated in 2004. “I plan to work in a pediatric dental office,” she said, “and Tunxis prepared me for this. We got to work in lots of different settings around the state. We were exposed to a lot.”

At the heart of the Tunxis program is an innovative approach to teaching and learning the dental hygiene profession. Students work and study under faculty supervision at community-based dental clinics around the state. These clinics are the gateway to oral health care for thousands of uninsured patients.

Explains Mary Bencivengo, chair of allied health, “Tunxis is helping to end the critical shortfall of oral health care in Connecticut, not only by graduating over 30 dental hygiene students each year, but through our teaching approach which provides our students real world learning experiences in places where the need is high. Connecticut benefits greatly from this.”

A native of Vietnam, Mindy Ky started the program in 1995, and while also working full-time, gradually attained the credits she needed to graduate. “I plan to work at my aunt’s practice in Hartford,” she said. “Getting experience in schools, nursing homes and clinics in the area really helped prepare me for this career.”

Neville Hall, a Jamaican-born Hartford resident who graduated from Tunxis in 2004, agrees. “We learned how to best serve patients,” he said.

Each cited the camaraderie and teamwork among dental hygiene students at Tunxis, and the support they give one another. “We have depended on each other,” said Hall. “You can surprise yourself here. You don’t think you can do something, but before you know it, you’re doing it.”

Explained Hall, “Now we have our degree, and we have our career. We earned it, we own it, and the hard work really pays off.” And, added Rosado, “there is job security, because dental hygiene jobs are always available.”

“It’s a great faculty at Tunxis,” said Maldonado. “They are strict, but good, so we can accomplish our goals.”

“There is lots of opportunity in dental hygiene,” concluded Hall. “You can make that life choice. The jobs are there, and the need is there.”

I&AT newsletter, September 2004