Durham Tech students embrace the heart of dentistry

student and program director use machine to shape denturesWhen most college students were sleeping in last Saturday morning, dental lab technology students at Durham Tech were giving back through the heart of dentistry. They left Durham at 3:30 a.m. to arrive in New Bern before the start of their 6 a.m. volunteer shift at North Carolina Missions of Mercy, a free dental program that operates two-day clinics throughout the state.

More than 700 individuals that cannot otherwise afford dental care were served by volunteer dental professionals at The Epiphany School in New Bern. The gymnasium was bustling. Nearly 80 dental chairs were filled with patients in need of cleanings, fillings, extractions, x-rays and prostheses.

“It’s important for students to come here because they’re volunteering their time, giving back, and the patients appreciate it,” said Greg Walton, Director of the Dental Lab Technology Program at Durham Tech. “Students have a chance to see how difficult dentistry can be at times and what the role of being a technician looks like. They get to see how important their profession is and what’s ahead for them.”

Across the hall from the gymnasium were two rooms of dental lab technicians from various schools and businesses, repairing partials, bridges, crowns and dentures.

“I feel honored to play a role in impacting the lives of the patients,” said Anthonia Busuyi, 27, first-year dental lab technology student. “I feel like I’m a part of the team here. Everyone is in grind mode, helping as many patients as we can. I also get to be around a lot of experienced individuals in the field and it gives me some insight on what I’ll be working on in the future.”

The volunteer experience provides students with a unique opportunity to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom.

“This hands-on portion is so invaluable to our education,” said Rachel Smoot, 25. “There’s only so much you can learn in a classroom. The real life setting really puts our education over the edge.”

Though excited about the career experience, students never lost sight of the impact they were making on patient’s lives.

“It’s really cool to know that this is going to impact someone’s life,” Smoot said. “It’s almost unreal because you don’t think about it while you’re in school, but when you’re volunteering and seeing it happen, it’s great to know you’re improving someone’s life.”

Two students volunteered on Friday while four students and Walton volunteered Saturday. Durham Tech students have been volunteering at NC Missions of Mercy since 2010.

“People that can’t afford dental care and come here to get work done – it changes their whole life,” Walton said. “They’re able to feel confident about themselves and go out and get jobs with their new smiles. It runs joy through you to be able to help someone like that.”

North Carolina Missions of Mercy is an outreach program of the North Carolina Dental Society and sponsored by the North Carolina Dental Health Fund, which is on a mission to improve access to dental care for those in need.

If you are a student in the Dental Lab Technology program at Durham Tech and interested in volunteering at Missions of Mercy, please contact Erin Popov at popove@durhamtech.edu.