PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP — On Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and
Friday mornings, a lab at Burlington County College emits noises
not normally heard in the solemn halls of academia.
“We get buzzing,” said Linda Hecker, director of the college’s
dental hygiene program.
The 24 examination chairs in the dental lab fill with county
residents who come to have their teeth cleaned, receive fluoride
treatments and get X-rays taken. All for $5 a visit.
Patients are referred to dentists for follow-up care. Many
revisit the lab for continued cleanings — brightening their smiles
while preventing tooth decay.
More than 4,000 people have taken advantage of the discounted
dental care in the six years since the college initiated the
Sandy Hammel of Westampton heard about it at her doctor’s office
two years ago when she was out of work. She called, made an
appointment, and has been coming to the college to have her teeth
cleaned ever since.
“In these economic times, who could pass that up?” Hammel said.
“When I left here, my mouth was clean.”
The students’ professionalism and personal care impressed
Hecker said the students take their time with the dental exams
and cleanings, as they are learning the procedures and must show
their skills to their instructors.
They practice first on adjustable dummy heads with teeth called
typodonts. Then they clean one another’s teeth before taking on
The patients receive an initial exam to determine what work they
will require. Those with the most serious issues are assigned to
the second-year students.
Since only six county colleges in New Jersey offer a dental
hygiene course, the 24 slots in the two-year program fill
“I love it,” said Maria Pilch of Medford Lakes.
Pilch started college in Maryland before transferring to BCC.
She knew she wanted to be a hygienist.
“Being in the program reinforced it’s what I want to do,” she
said as she worked on molding an athletic mouth guard.
Students learn many skills: performing oral exams, cleaning and
bleaching teeth, installing temporary fillings, making and
installing temporary crowns, sterilizing equipment, and taking and
Since X-rays can be forwarded to a dentist by email, the
students learn both a new digital process and how to develop film
in a darkroom.
Students also must take several academic courses for a total of
34 credits, including microbiology, chemistry, and anatomy and
physiology. Most take the classes as prerequisites, attending the
college for at least a year before applying for the program.
“It would be highly unusual for someone straight out of high
school to be accepted,” Hecker said.
Dayna Tims of Maple Shade, who cleaned Hammel’s teeth, and
fellow student Anthony Tanasy of Lakewood, Ocean County, both
worked as dental assistants before applying to BCC for the hygiene
“It definitely broadens my horizons,” Tanasy said.
While students from other counties apply, first preference goes
to those from Burlington County. Applications are accepted starting
Sept. 1 for the following fall’s classes.
Dental appointments are filled for the fall, but in the spring
semester, students will be seeing patients every weekday.
On Feb. 3, the school also offers a free clinic for children
called “Give Kids a Smile Day.” It’s for children 12 and younger
whose families do not have dental insurance. Each year, more than
150 children participate, receiving more than $85,000 in dental
care, Hecker said.
Dentists volunteer to do filings and provide other services for
the children, assisted by the dental hygiene students. Many
graduated students return to help out as well.
“I love that they love the day as much as they do,” Hecker
To make an appointment at the dental clinic, call 609-894-9311,
Peg Quann: 609-871-8057;
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