DACC Dental Hygiene Program helps improve smiles in Las Cruces, across the globe

Imagine a college experience with service learning that makes a profound difference in the lives of students and their clients. The NMSU Doña Ana Community College Dental Hygiene Program has served the needs of the poor in India, provided dental services to local children and helped pioneer a dental clinic at Las Cruces Public School’s Lynn Middle School, the first community school in southern New Mexico.  

The middle school provides services to children and their families to improve health, well-being and student learning. The DACC Happy Smiles School based dental clinic at Lynn also is the first of its kind in the southern part of the state. 

Lynn partners with community agencies to bring mental health services, a food pantry, clothing and free dental services to students. Working with those in need is nothing new for DACC Dental Program students. 

In early 2018, 30 students, dental and medical professionals traveled to India and provided free dental services to more than 3,500 children and adults. The program also put together its first Happy Smiles two-day free dental hygiene clinic that served children from ages 2-14 who had no dental insurance or access to dental services.   

“Dental services play a significant role in developing healthy children and healthy communities,” says Elmer Gonzalez, program director of the Dental Hygiene Program. “The work we do at the clinic will improve oral health awareness, disease prevention, and provide school children with the tools to grow and develop positive oral health habits.” 

The dental clinic at Lynn opened in April 2019. The clinic operates every Wednesday, and sees at least five children per day. Two dental hygiene students provide dental health services to build their clinical and social skills. Faculty members supervise DACC students at all times. 

DACC students Justice Au (right) and Ariana Armijo provide dental health services at the clinic, which opened in April 2019.

“The faculty and students at Lynn are very welcoming and make our services feel appreciated,” says Janaya Bunker, a Lynn graduate and the DACC Dental Clinic Coordinator at the school. 

Thanks to Gonzalez and the NMSU Foundation, corporate sponsors have provided funding for this collaboration. Delta Dental of New Mexico has provided two grants to purchase mobile dental equipment and funding for services. The Anderson Charitable Foundation also awarded a challenge grant after the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico awarded resources for a dental clinic in southern Doña Ana County. Another project scheduled for the 2019-2020 winter holiday break is a trip to provide dental services to clients in Vietnam. 

Eddie Binder

Elmer Gonzalez, program director of the DACC Dental Hygiene Program, treats a student at the dental clinic at Lynn Middle School in Las Cruces.