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ETSU’s Dental Hygiene program celebrates 50 years

Contributed • Nov 1, 2019 at 4:58 PM

East Tennessee State University’s Dental Hygiene program is celebrating 50 years of educating students and providing dental hygiene care for the region.

The program commemorated its 50th anniversary with a dinner for alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the program on Friday, Nov. 1.

ETSU’s dental hygiene program began in 1969 as an associate degree as a result of the Vocational Education Act. The first class graduated in 1971, and to date, approximately 1,500 students have graduated from the program, which is now housed in ETSU’s College of Clinical and Rehabilitative Health Sciences.

“There were plenty of people who needed a dental hygienist back then, but there weren’t many around at that time,” said Dr. Ruth Ketron, who was a member of the first class of dental hygiene students at ETSU. “I really didn’t even know one in Kingsport, where I am from. There was a need to get the program started.”

Ketron, who was 39 when she started the dental hygiene program at ETSU, went on to complete her master’s degree at ETSU and a doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee. She eventually became part of the dental hygiene faculty at ETSU and taught for more than 20 years before she retired in 1995.

In the early 1990s, the program evolved into an Associate of Applied Science. By 2000, ETSU began offering a Bachelor of Science in dental hygiene, with the last few associate degrees being awarded in 2005.

Additionally, the BS online degree completion program, which allows licensed dental hygienists with associate degrees to complete their BS degree online, was started in 2001. This was one of the first two such programs in the nation. The first online students graduated in 2003, and to date, the online program has graduated 226 students from 27 states.

Throughout the years, the dental hygiene program has experienced many changes — including a shift from the white uniforms and caps to the scrubs now worn by dental hygienists. ETSU’s Dental Hygiene Clinic has also undergone significant renovations and upgrades to provide state-of-the-art training and dental hygiene services to the community. While programming has evolved, some aspects of the program – including its focus on student success – remain unchanged, according to Dr. Charles Faust, program director from 2005-18.

“We are lucky here at ETSU because we are very student-focused,” Faust said. “All of our graduates are part of our family, and we love to see them when they come back.”

The program also has made an important impact on the community over the past 50 years. The Dental Hygiene Clinic in ETSU’s Lamb Hall is open to the public and offers thorough examinations, oral cancer screening, dental cleaning, dental charting, periodontal assessment and therapy, preventive oral hygiene instructions, fluoride, occlusal sealants, dental radiographs and referrals to dentists.

Senior citizens (55 and older) receive free treatment. All others who can afford to pay are charged $20 for cleaning. Sealants and x-rays carry extra charges.

“As a teaching facility, we are able to offer excellent care that is affordable and accessible to people in this region, while at the same time providing our students with the highest quality equipment and instruction,” said Dr. Tabitha Fair, current program director. “We are proud of our 50-year legacy in this community and look forward to many more decades of education and service.”

To learn more about the Dental Hygiene Program, visit www.etsu.edu/crhs/allied-health/dhyg

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