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Dental hygiene students spread smiles across U.S.

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Apr 30, 2018

Students in the College of Lake County’s dental hygiene program learn under a unique teaching philosophy that emphasizes professionalism, environmental sustainability and social responsibility. This holistic approach to learning, combined with a close-knit atmosphere and service learning opportunities, has paid off.

CLC students have attained a 99 percent pass rate on the national certification exam over the past 12 years, according to Sue Nierstheimer, program chair (left). The students and faculty work in a state-of-the-art Dental Hygiene Clinic on the Lakeshore Campus in Waukegan that is open to the public.

Moving beyond traditional clinical skills, Photo of Sue Nierstheimer and Claire Salatathe students are taught how to conduct blood pressure checks. “If a patient has high blood pressure, he or she is referred to a medical doctor with whom CLC collaborates,” Nierstheimer said. “I cannot tell you how many patients have come back and said they had no idea they had high blood pressure.”

To promote success, each student is scheduled with a cohort of 23 others for all courses in the two-year program, creating a supportive atmosphere in which close friendships can form. Students also are assigned to care for a variety of patients, from small children to senior citizens to those with special needs, to provide real-world learning, said Nierstheimer, who teaches along with two other full-time and several part-time instructors.

And the real-world experience moves far beyond Lake County. A service learning portion of the program offers students the chance to take an annual, weekend bus trip to rural Tennessee to provide dental care and oral hygiene education to economically depressed residents. The program, in which the patients’ gratitude has moved some CLC students to tears, is part of the Knoxville, Tenn.-based Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps.

The service learning ethic is what attracted Claire Salata (right) to CLC’s program. “In Tennessee, we went into areas with limited access to care and served 1,000 men, women and children in a weekend,” said Salata, a Libertyville resident who plans to earn an A.A.S. in May. “It was very eye-opening. We helped people who were in dire need. We can make a difference in people’s lives. This has been the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.”

Salata, who comes from a family of dentists and also holds a B.A. in music (voice) from Millikin University, also is impressed with the dental hygiene program’s emphasis on professionalism and environmental sustainability. “We’re taught how to be an ergonomically sound clinician, which reduces the likelihood of injuries, and the sustainable practices range from paperless records to turning off lights to save energy and help calm patients. Not many people can graduate from a career program and say they have two years of clinical experience. The support and encouragement we have from the faculty and our peers is amazing.”

Lake County residents can take advantage of a dental exam and teeth cleaning at the Lakeshore clinic for only $15. “This price has remained the same for years, as part of our philosophy of giving back to the community,” Nierstheimer said. The exams and clinic services are free to CLC students.

To learn about CLC’s dental hygiene program, which currently has a waiting list, visit or contact Nierstheimer at (847) 543-2638 or Find out more about the dental hygiene clinic’s services at

To discover more extraordinary things you might not know about CLC, visit throughout the year. Summer Session begins June 4, and Fall Semester starts Aug. 20. For details, visit