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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Visalia Dental Hygiene Program Celebrates 25 Years

November 29, 2022

In July 1997 the very first classes of the Dental Hygiene program of the Visalia campus began in a Holiday Inn across the street from the building where they reside today, which was still under construction.


When asked about the biggest change she has experienced in her twenty-five years there, Dental Hygiene Program Director Brenda Serpa said, “Undoubtedly, the biggest change is the use of technology in the classroom, clinic, and in the hands of the students. “


It was another world back then: students carried textbooks, notepads, pencils, and flashcards. They checked their posted grades on a wall inside the dental hygiene clinic and received notices in their mailboxes or on posted signs.


Now they carry iPads with access to electronic versions of their courses and textbooks, see their grades posted in their eCourse immediately following an exam and communicate readily with faculty through email.


Not only have the educational methods changed, so has the scope of practice and technology that the students use in their clinical training.


In the on-campus Dental Hygiene clinic, students practice using digital sensors for x-rays, management software for managing appointments, and intra-oral cameras to document conditions – significant advancements from film-based x-rays and paper-based appointment books. In 2016, SJVC Visalia was approved to teach a newly permissible skill to students – interim therapeutic restorations. For the first time in California history, Dental Hygiene students were allowed to place fillings!


All of the services provided in the clinic are complimentary to anyone in the community age 5 or older.  The multitude of services range from regular exams, preventative teeth cleaning and polishing, fluoride treatments, X-ray and periodontal assessment, as well as sealants and fillings to treat or prevent cavities.


In the past in order to become a registered dental hygienist, students had to travel 3-4 hours by car – with their patient – to spend the night either in northern or southern California where they would take the clinical board licensing exam. But in 2014, SJVC Visalia changed that: they became a host site for the exam. “Now they take their exam in their own clinic,” Serpa noted.


SJVC Visalia Dental Hygiene Class of 2000

Dental Hygiene instructor, Lygia Jolley, who started teaching at SJVC Visalia in 2003 and serves as a student-advisor/liaison to the professional community, has seen the growth in demand for dental hygienists. As a past president of the Valley Oaks Dental Hygienists’ Association and California Dental Hygienists’ Association, she promotes continued growth of the profession. When asked what is her happiest memory of the last 25 years, she replied, “I now am working with three of the students I taught. Those are the greatest moments.”


When asked about the happiest memories in her 25-year career, Brenda Serpa responded “Seeing students reach their goals – whatever they may be. I love to see graduates continue with their education or participate in activities that improve the health of their community.” She mentioned one example, 2000 graduate Cherilyn Jacobs Kasperian, who went on to become a dentist and just recently, a board-certified periodontist. She commented, “Being a small part in their story is SO rewarding.”


What hasn’t changed from the very beginning in that Holiday Inn banquet room is the faculty’s commitment to each and every student and to graduate experienced, skilled, high-quality dental hygienists into the modern working world.

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