Dental Hygiene Program Graduate Found Interest in Oral Hygiene as a Child
KeEra Bailey’s original focus on oral hygiene wasn’t exactly a choice. Like a lot of kids, she needed braces that required regular brushing and flossing. And it didn’t take long before she started to notice that if she didn’t take care of her teeth and gums, there would be undesirable consequences:
“When I was younger, I had really, really messed up teeth and I’m not being coy about it either. I had an extra tooth on the bottom. I had huge spaces on my top teeth. It was just kind of all over the place. Then my mom put me into braces at a really young age. I think fifth or sixth grade. I went through this phase with them where I didn’t want to brush or floss and I saw how angry your gums can get when you can neglect them and how disgusting it is to see what happens when you don’t do that. So, then I got back on track and started brushing and flossing them. I got my braces off and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, you are telling me that in two years they completely transformed my smile?”
Her experience with braces was so life-altering that she became known for her smile and even won “best smile” in high school. KeEra said she was always “cheesing” and smiling like you would for a picture. She also continued to keep up her diligent dental care after her braces came off, which eventually motivated her to become a Dental Assistant (DA). Today, she is a graduated, licensed, and employed Dental Hygienist. She would like to see other people experience the positive transformations and benefits she has experienced and appreciated from dental care. “The process of going to appointments and getting my teeth cleaned is such a high level of satisfaction not only for myself but for knowing that other people can feel that way too. I wanted to become a dental hygienist so I could help make it so people are not afraid to go to the dentist. I want them to know that when they come to the dentist that it’s only for us to make them better,” KeEra said.
Before attending Carrington’s Mesa campus, KeEra spent two years working as a DA at a pediatric office serving patients up to the age of twenty-six. She enjoyed it but grew frustrated because DAs are very limited in what they can do. She wanted to go further in the field of dentistry and do more for patient’s oral hygiene. KeEra said, “When I was a tech, I’d see built up calculus on the older pediatric patients and I’d be like, ‘Doc, can I remove this?’ And she would say that only a hygienist could do that and she had to do it since we didn’t have a hygienist working there. I thought, ‘Man, it has to feel so good to get in there and fling that stuff off!”
KeEra now has countless opportunities to clean and fling off calculus. She graduated from Carrington Mesa’s dental hygiene program August 28th and started working in her new position at Pacific Dental in Glendale October 1st. Throughout the program, she said that she felt as though her instructors were “always pushing them toward excellence.” The students gained book knowledge while also learning and applying hands-on clinical skills first with dummy heads, other students, and then at the school with real patients. At first, she says they were slow, taking a full lab day to clean half of one patient’s mouth, but through time and practice, they got up to three or four patients per day. She said that it helped a lot that the students “felt 1,000% supported by instructors. They guided us and truly helped us become the hygienists that we are going to be. They threw us out there with a life vest.”
One thing that the dental hygiene students hadn’t anticipated contending with was COVID19. This brought them an entirely different level of attention to personal protective equipment—or PPE. They were following Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. This meant that students wore an N95 mask, level 3 mask, goggles, face shields, and a protective gown over their scrubs. They made sure the air conditioning was at a cool temperature, so they didn’t overheat, because as KeEra said, “underneath all those layers it gets hot!” To compensate, patients were given blankets if they became cold. PPE changes also altered life for the students regarding how they lived in relation to the clinic, which is what life will be like in private practice until COVID19 passes. “We had to stay at school to eat lunch and remove all PPE upon leaving school. Change out of scrubs and put them in a bag. Take them home and wash them, bring them back. We were doing everything that we needed to do to follow the guidelines.”
One of the important steps along the way to becoming a hygienist is learning how to work with patients who are nervous or downright fearful of dentistry. KeEra especially saw this type of fear ratchet up when she got to the phase during clinicals where she was learning how to inject anesthetics using needles. That might have been a nerve-wracking experience except for the fact that her Carrington instructors were always right there offering guidance and support. She said, “Our instructors coached us on the whole process because if the patients aren’t happy then you aren’t going to be able to do your job. You have to be that calming voice and make sure they know that you’re not there to hurt them, you are there to help them and make them healthier. Friendship is the key to patient relationships. Walking them through the process.”
By the end of the program, she had accumulated her 720 required clinical hours and was ready to graduate. Remarkably, even with the onset of the COVID19 pandemic forcing classes online and major changes to the way the program performed clinicals, KeEra, who became the president of her cohort, reports that her class graduated just a touch behind schedule. “I think our graduation was only pushed back by 2 weeks, which is really good because I know a lot of schools had their graduation pushed back by many months–even all the way to January. So that was really good. They do a great job keeping things on track.”
One of the biggest priorities in KeEra’s job search after graduation was the same one shared by many people: health insurance. At twenty-six, she is no longer eligible to be on her mom’s plan. So, she needed to find an employer within reasonable driving distance to her home that offered it as a benefit. She had also heard that it would take at least a month or two to get her hygienist license through the state of Arizona due to COVID delays, so she started looking up dental practices online while she waited and started working with Rebecca Hatten in Career Services at Carrington. While KeEra was online looking up potential dental clinics, Rebecca was calling her daily and sending her places that she had found and set up for KeEra to do interviews. She said that Rebecca set up between 75-80% of her interviews. “And I wasn’t the only person she was helping! She was helping all these other students who had just graduated. I don’t know how she does all of it.”
KeEra found through interviewing that each office had its own culture and vibe. This was even true within practices operating through the same corporation. When she interviewed with Pacific Dental her new employer, for example, she found that one office wasn’t the right fit, while the other office was more family-oriented and a better fit for her. The apprehension she had felt about working for a corporation melted away when she saw that it could still have the feel of a smaller friendly family dental practice. She accepted their offer and started with them October 1st.
The existing hygienist at her Pacific Dental clinic is training KeEra before they depart for an extended leave of absence. While that hygienist is away, KeEra will be the only hygienist in the office until she returns. As a new hygienist, she will have one column of patients that she works throughout her days, but as she builds up her speed and proficiency, she will eventually have two columns. Hygienists at her new employer receive a base salary that is improved upon by production and how many deep cleanings hygienists do on patients who need them. KeEra says the deep cleanings are a solution where everyone benefits because the cleanings provide patients with better oral health and she earns a better living to help pave her future–all while doing something she is passionate about. “I thought that I loved what I was doing when I started the program but now that I have graduated and get to be paid for doing what I love to do, I am just so much on Cloud 9!”
This recent graduate certainly has a bright future ahead of her. If she finds herself craving opportunities to do more advanced dental care sometime down the road, KeEra said that she will consider going to school to become a dentist. Until then, she says with great enthusiasm for her chosen path, “Right now I just want to enjoy the high of being a hygienist!”