Harper’s Dental Hygiene Clinic offers community care and student education

Dental Hygiene is one of Harper College’s oldest programs, dating back more than 50 years to the college’s opening.

The program’s on-campus dental hygiene clinic has a loyal clientele, with approximately 1,500 to 2,000 regulars.

By visiting the Harper Clinic, clients receive high quality care at a low cost – and they help dental hygiene students on their journey to graduation.

Jill Popa, who is graduating with an associate’s degree in dental hygiene this month, has known for a long time that she wants to work in the dental field. Prior to starting at Harper, she was a dental assistant with over 15 years of experience. The field attracted her because of her upbringing in Romania, where she said dental hygienists and preventative dental care were not commonplace.

“We only went to the dentist when something hurt, and I was terrified,” said Popa of Mount Prospect, who moved to the United States in 1999. “I thought [working in the dental field] was a way to conquer my fears and maybe help others to do so.”

One of the biggest changes Harper’s dental hygiene program has seen over the years is the move to its current location in the Foglia Center for Nursing and Allied Health, Building X, which has tripled the available space, said Kathi Hock, program coordinator.

The program is nearing the end of another big change: construction is nearly complete on a simulation lab, where students can practice their skills in a high-tech space.


“If instrumentation skills aren’t developing as they should, we can come into the simulation lab at any time and provide students with one-on-one help,” Hock said.

Before working on real clients, students work on mannequins. Previously, students had to do this hands-on work in the clinic, which occupied chairs that might otherwise be used for clients.

Now, students can practice in the simulation lab at the start of their program, freeing up the clinic’s 18 chairs to provide care to the community.

Students who work on clinic clients do so under the direct supervision of a licensed hygienist, Hock said. A licensed dentist is also present for all client care sessions. Because students learn and work with professionals, dental hygiene care can take a little longer.

“Every skill they do is assessed and verified by instructors,” Hock said, until a complete medical history is received, which the dentist uses to approve a client for care. “It slows things down.”

However, as learners go through the two-year program and become more confident in their skills, the timelines shorten.

The care clients receive at Harper’s dental clinic is comparable to what a client would receive in a dentist’s office, Hock said. It uses evidence-based research and provides high quality care at a significantly reduced cost. Dental hygiene care, for example, costs between $27 and $64. X-rays range from $3 to $35.

The clinic does not process insurance, but will provide an invoice for clients to submit to their insurance.

Graduates of this semester still take their board exams, but in 2020, 100% of graduates have passed both the American Dental Association National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and the Board Clinical Examination. administration of the Commission on Dental Competency Assessment.

Popa remembers the first client she worked on as a student. The man had been a client of Harper’s for more than 15 years, having his teeth cleaned and undergoing cancer screenings.

“We are committed to looking for certain lesions or certain things that indicate that clients might have pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions,” she said. “This client had this review a year ago.”

As a result, he said he would continue to come to Harper for the rest of his life, according to Popa.

The Harper Dental Hygiene Clinic is located in Building X, Room X102a, Harper College, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine. Cost is $7 for screening, $27-$64 for care, $3-$25 for x-rays, $5 for each sealant.

The clinic is currently accepting new clients. For an appointment, call (847) 925-6534. For more information visit www.harpercollege.edu/academics/health/dental/dentalclinic.php

Helen D. Jessen