Dental hygeine era ends

After more than 80 years, the dental hygiene program at Marquette will graduate its last full class of dental hygiene majors next month.

The decision to close the program came in February 2000 after the administration reviewed and assessed most dental hygiene programs of that nature. The administration found most programs lasted two years at technical schools. Marquette refused to change its traditional four-year format. According to Ben Tracy, director of university communication, the administration also decided the university was not able to support the program with its finite resources.

"It's never an easy thing to close a program," Tracy said. "The people in dental hygiene do good work and have served the university very well."

Marquette had one of the oldest dental hygiene programs in the country and has graduated over 3,000 students in the past 82 years, according to Kim Halula, chair of the dental hygiene program.

"I think Marquette University had the best dental hygiene program in the country," Halula said. "It wasn't just the clinician aspect of the program but it was that they (students) graduated as well rounded individuals and health professionals. It's a very sad time now not only because it's the last year but also that students with the quality of education that Marquette provides will no longer be graduating to work in the health field."

Graduating students in the program said they thought the program closing was illogical.

"I don't think that there's a specific reason for the closing," said senior Lisa Stevens. "I think the bottom line is it's political."

Stevens said the only other four-year bachelors program in dental hygiene is in Vriginia and most other programs are two-year associate degree programs.

"I'm worried that dental hygiene will continue to decline in professionalism," Stevens said. "Those other skills that are so important in being a professional are lost."

Senior David Thao said the closing would affect more than the students in the program.

"With its closing, I don't know where all the patients are going to go," Thao said. "It's going to be sad. It was a great program."

According to Thao, many of the dental hygiene program's patients were people from the Rescue Mission, the Salvation Army and other local social needs groups. Some patients have been coming to Marquette for dental hygiene for about 40 or 50 years. Service was free of charge.

Marilyn Beck, historian in the Dental Hygiene Department, said she does not completely understand why the program closed.

"I was deeply saddened by the decision to close the program," Beck said. "It doesn't seem like anyone knows or is willing to tell the exact reason for this decision. It is very difficult to understand why the university would close the program at a time when a new Dental School was being built and a new dental curriculum was being established.

"One would think that the inclusion of dental hygiene would be essential to the education of dental students. Now organized dentistry is talking about training dental hygienists in expanded duties to meet projected needs. The program in Dental Hygiene included these expanded duties in the curriculum for the last 30 years."

The program had a commemorative farewell gathering March 27. About 400 alumni returned for the event.

Marquette's dental hygiene program began in 1923 as a one-year curriculum. In 1940, it stretched into a two-year program and in 1942 it offered an optional four-year Bachelor of Science Degree in Public Health Dental Hygiene. By 1975, Marquette's program was a four-year curriculum.

According to Beck, the program had a total of six leaders over the years: Frances Beardsley, Anna Hehn, John Frankel, Elizabeth Linn, Tillie Ginsburg and Kim Halula.

Although many dental hygiene graduates work for private practices or further their career in dentistry, many pursue a position in education. Over 100 Marquette graduates stayed at Marquette's dental hygiene program as faculty members. About 80 others served as faculty in 43 schools across the nation. Still other graduates have been known to work in positions in public health, product marketing and insurance.

The typical dental hygiene major was required to take at least 54 credits in dental hygiene in addition to philosophy, communication, english and other liberal arts courses.