By Zachary Horner, The Sanford Herald
SANFORD - Amy Matthews wanted something different from a career.
She was in human resources for a couple years, then left work to have children. But when her daughter was in kindergarten, she was ready to get back into it.
"I always loved this school and what it offers to our community," said Matthews, a clinical adjunct faculty and clinical assistant at Central Carolina Community College's Dental Hygiene Program. "I wanted to do something where I could help people."
She found the program she now teaches in, worked in dentists' offices for a few years then came back to work as a teacher. Matthews had taught different things, particularly Sunday School and Vacation Bible School classes, since she was 17.
"I always loved to teach," she said. "I had never even thought of doing that, but it married the two -- I love hygiene and I love teaching."
Matthews has taught at the program, which is located at the W.B. Wicker Campus on South Vance Street, for almost two years. She spoke to The Herald about her routine, the clinic she works at with students and why the dental program is hard.
What is your daily routine?
Mondays and Wednesdays this semester, as clinical adjunct faculty, we're in clinic. So the second-year (students) see a patient in the morning and the afternoon. So usually I get here at eight o'clock and I'm preparing for the day. I usually go in and greet all my students and make sure that they're ready for the day. Then we start seeing patients at 9.
So morning patient, afternoon patient, and then usually after clinic, it's wrapping up with the students. Usually I go back in and check over their notes they've made on the patient to make sure their notes are correct. Cleaning up, shutting down everything. This semester, I'm the clinical assistant, which means those are the days when I'm ordering, counting inventory, things like that in the clinic. So every semester's a little bit different, which is what I like about my job.
What's it like to teach dental hygiene?
With the second years, you want to be hands-on enough because they're going to graduate, they're going to be in the workforce soon. They're also preparing for boards. I want to be hands-on enough that I'm helping prepare them, but then I also have to know when to step back and let them take over on their own, when it's an easier patient or I just know that they've got it. It's learning that balance of when to step in and when to step back and let them succeed on their own.
This group that graduates May, the class of 2017, I've been with them since their first semester. So I was with them in pre-clinic, where they had practice hours, where they were learning how to use their instruments. So I had the privilege of sitting down with them and beginning to use the instruments. That's huge for them. And then from there, I was in their first-year clinic with them when they were starting to see their patients and they had all those nerves, just learning what calculus, that hardened plaque, felt like on the teeth. Now I've been with them in their second year of clinic. It's been an honor to have been with them the whole time at CCCC.
How does the clinic work?
People think, "Oh, it's been a long time since I've had my teeth cleaned. I don't want to come in and be a challenge for the students." But that's what we need. We need patients that have not had their teeth cleaned in a long time. Our second-year students who are about to graduate, they need that challenge. Sometimes it can be hard for them to find because they have to find their own patients. If you don't have a home (dentist) or you don't have insurance or are low on funds, we're a great place to come get your teeth cleaned for anybody. Our students have a need for the harder patients.
Everything we do is free. We don't do any kind of restorative working -- root canals, fillings, anything like that. But we do take your X-rays, you see our dentist, who can give you a referral. It's a great service for Sanford. I wish more of our people in Lee County knew about this school. We can do regular cleanings, we can do deep cleanings, we do fluoride treatments.
What's the most important thing you can teach a dental patient?
We strive for our students to be professional. You've got to have the ability to clean teeth, but our students get stronger with that after they graduate. We want our students to graduate with values and being professional.
Most people when they're in your chair are not happy to be there. You're providing a service to a patient, so it is important to be professional at all times. You've got to present yourself in a manner that allows your patient to feel comfortable during treatment.
What's your favorite part of your job?
I just love the students. They're hard on themselves. This is not an easy program. There's a lot of tears in this program. Sometimes if it's something that I can make a joke out of it and lighten the mood and not have the break down, I try to do that. I just love the students and try to do everything I can with love.
Why is the program so hard?
Part of it is you're learning totally new skills. Some of our students have gone through (the college's Dental) Assisting (Program), so they have some of a background. But with assisting, you're not using some of the same instruments and doing some of the same things you do in hygiene. In the hygiene program, you're learning something totally new, something that you've never done before. You can't touch these instruments until you're a hygienist or you're in hygiene school.
And then when you're learning something new, you're going to make mistakes. These students are students who have always had As and maybe some Bs along the way. They're not used to having mistakes and lower grades. You can get a critical error in clinic, and you've got a zero. That's not OK with them. They've got to learn to adapt to that.
And then part of it is finding their own patients. They've got to bring in their own patients and have certain types of patients.
Why is this program important?
We're offering a great service to our community. It's free dental services. Dental hygiene and dental assisting are growing fields. There's lots of opportunity.
Matt Monarca, The Sanford Herald. Central Carolina Community College dental hygiene instructor Amy Matthews, left, oversees student Madison Lily, right, as Lily works on a patient.