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Dental hygiene students brighten smiles during Tennessee trip

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Feb 21, 2020

More than a thousand low-income Tennessee residents without basic dental care smile more brightly thanks to 23 dental hygiene students from the College of Lake County (CLC) who volunteered to travel to Knoxville this winter.

During the program’s 11th annual service-learning trip to Tennessee, the group provided nearly $900,000 worth of free services for 1,534 individuals. In addition to completing about 250 cleanings, the students Dental hygiene students clean the teeth of a low-income resident in Tennesseeassisted professional dentists with extractions and fillings, said Mary Jacobs, CLC dental hygiene instructor and program co-chair who led the trip.

Photo (from left): Dental hygiene students Andrea Butler and Angela Callahan perform teeth cleaning during their annual service learning trip to Knoxville, Tenn. this winter.

The students collaborate with Remote Area Medical, a non-profit organization providing medical, vision and dental services to the underserved. Working from temporary dental stations set up at an armory, the volunteers also provided lessons on oral hygiene. Because many of the patients never learned proper dental care they have badly decayed teeth, Jacobs said.

The CLC volunteers took a 10-hour bus ride to Knoxville, where they woke up at 5 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings to head to the armory and begin their work. “When the doors opened at 6 o’clock, many were already in line, having slept overnight in their cars,” Jacobs explained. “Our group worked tirelessly until the door closed on both days.”

Service-learning projects reflect a new trend that began about a decade ago, Jacobs said. “Traditionally, there wasn’t a focus to prepare students for working in public health settings,” she explained. “Colleges, including CLC, have leveraged their dental hygiene curricula to help minimize the disparity in oral health care in the U.S.”

The students, who contributed to the cost of the trip by selling teeth whitening, t-shirts and electric toothbrushes, found the venture to be eye-opening. “It is such a blessing to be able to partner with different organizations to provide our knowledge and services,” said dental hygiene student Earle DeBelen. “It is not only helpful for patients who need the care, but rewarding for us who are learning new things about different populations and other branches of dental care. My views of public health have changed a tremendous amount after attending this service-learning trip.  I did not realize how many people are willing to travel and sleep in their cars to get access to care.”

Fellow student Olivia Kolak said, “After I finished a patient’s teeth cleaning, she felt so much happier and appreciated what I had done. This filled my heart with so much joy. The service-learning weekend at RAM was like no other. It was very eye-opening to see the parts of rural America that needed help like this. My classmates and I really came together to bring smiles on these peoples’ faces, and for this alone, I am truly grateful for the experience!” 

For more information on CLC's dental hygiene program, visit


About College of Lake County:

The College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. The College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation.