Dental hygiene clinic fulfills veterans’ needs


Photo by Gabi Wy

Senior dental hygiene major Mackenzie Roll performs a check-up on veteran Michah Bahr. Bahr served in the U.S. Navy from 2004-2012 and gets his dental service for free from the USI Dental Hygiene Clinic. He said the program is “pretty cool” and he likes to help the dental students get real life experience when he comes in for his cleaning.

During one of his check-ups at the USI Dental Hygiene Clinic, veteran Harley Hobgood said he considers himself friends with senior Kaila Raven after several visits together.

With several tools in her hands and goggles around her head, a smiling Raven nodded in agreement.

As Raven adjusted a pillow behind Hobgood’s head, he chuckled and said, “I wish they had these 20 years ago.”

Hobgood has been attending USI’s clinic for nine years, claiming the free service dental hygiene students offer for veterans.

Clinic staff said on days specified for veterans, the students serve about 33 veterans a day.

“The service here is triple A,” Hobgood said. “It’s excellent.”

Hobgood, who served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps in 1962, said he used to have dental insurance through his job after military service, but has since retired.

“This is the only place I can get my teeth cleaned and have x-rays done without costing me anything,” he said.

After Raven graduates in May, Hobgood will be seeing a different dental hygiene student at the clinic.

“I won’t get to see her,” he said, somber at first, but then a grin crept across his face. “Unless we meet someplace like Walmart—I’m not ruling that out as a possibility.”

Raven said she’s loved getting to serve veterans through the university’s dental hygiene program.

“It’s very rewarding,” she said. “You see the people here just light up. Sometimes they just need someone to talk to.”

After conversations with Hobgood, Raven said she’s felt honored to listen to veterans’ experiences.

“Since we have veterans’ clinics every year, we get the same patients, and we get to know each other,” she said. “I’ve learned how to help them with personal needs, not just dental needs.”

Raven said she feels prepared for her future work as a dental hygienist because of her experiences at the university clinic.

“I think it’ll help later on, especially with having geriatric patients,” she said. “I’ve gained interpersonal skills.”

Dr. Bryan Burkett, a dentist and adjunct faculty member, oversees the clinic on Tuesday evenings.

“This is a great thing to have,” he said. “I know veterans often have a budget pinch, and this is a good service.”

Burkett said he feels confident in trusting the students to work with patients in the clinic.

“I think [the students] do a good job,” he said. “I just make sure pretty much everybody’s falling in line.”

Burkett said the experience students obtain from working is incredibly important.

“I hope they gain compassion,” he said. “It’s important to have an attitude that includes giving back to your community.”