Continued Renewal: Dental Assisting Radiology Lab Renovations Begin in May

Students back in the dental lab.

Northwest Technical College’s Dental Assisting lab is getting a glow-up. Beginning in May, funding from a collaborative grant with Bemidji’s Northern Dental Access Center will allow NTC to renovate and expand the program’s radiology area.

“We are constantly improving our program to ensure that NTC’s students are studying in environments that match trends in the field,” Terri Bannor, NTC dental assisting faculty, said. “This renovation will help our lab more closely match the facilities our graduates will see on the job.”

In August 2023, the Northern Dental Access Center received $83,600 from the Minnesota Department of Health’s latest round of Clinical Dental Education Innovations Grant funding. The center was one of nine organizations to receive grants, which totaled nearly $1.065 million to improve the state’s dental education resources.

Bannor said the grant funding will allow NTC to significantly renovate Dental Assisting’s radiology lab, which has been relatively unchanged since the program moved to its current location in 2006.

Plans for the renovation include an expansion of capacity from four to 10 usable chairs, replacing cabinetry, refreshing computers and adding television screens and computer monitors to each lab station. The screens and monitors will allow students to review X-rays and other imagery without needing to leave their stations.

“It will give us a more usable space and give us more chairs that can be used for patients,” Bannor said.

Work will begin in early May and is expected to be completed by early June.

Siau Yean Montgomery, dental assisting faculty, said the renovation will also provide other benefits for NTC’s students.

“This will be useful for infection control; we can follow protocols better,” she said. “And, this will be useful for ergonomics, which is important for longevity in a dental career field.”

When completed, the radiology lab renovation will be another step toward a near-complete overhaul of NTC’s Dental Assisting lab. As a result of the program’s deep connections with partners such as the Northern Dental Access Center, all of NTC’s dental assisting lab renovations have been achieved without direct funding from the college or from Bemidji State University, which shares an administrative alignment with NTC.

“All of our equipment upgrades have taken advantage of leveraged equipment funding,” Bannor said. “We have taken advantage of networking and collaboration to expand opportunities for NTC’s students while saving the college’s budget.”

Leveraged equipment funding is a Minnesota State system initiative which encourages its member colleges and universities to purchase new equipment using donations or in-kind contributions from partners. The system then matches those donations or contributions to provide additional funding.

Bannor says future projects for the Dental Assisting lab could include renovations to the locker room and changing room, the lab’s reception space and its biomaterials area. NTC students also would benefit by having access to additional radiology equipment and 3D intra-oral scanners, she said.

About the Northern Dental Access Center

NTC and the nonprofit Northern Dental Access Center have enjoyed a close partnership since the center opened in 2008. In addition to counting numerous NTC alumni amongst its current staff — three of its five management positions, including the center’s executive director, Jeanne Edevold Larson, are held by NTC alumna — the center also provides clinical experience opportunities for NTC dental assisting students.

“This field changes quickly,” Bannor said. “Our collaboration with the Northern Dental Access Center and guidance from our advisory board ensures that we are keeping up with new and emerging technology in the industry.”

The center has received numerous awards and accolades for the services it provides to more than 25,000 Northern Minnesotans each year. In addition to its headquarters in Bemidji, the Northern Dental Access Center also operates clinics in Bagley and Halstad.

About the Clinical Dental Education Innovations Grant

The Minnesota Department of Health administers the Clinical Dental Education Innovations Grant program through its Office of Rural Health and Primary Care, which promotes access to quality health care for all Minnesotans.

The department’s innovation grants program funds projects that increase dental access for underserved populations and promote innovation in clinical dental education or training programs. Funds may be used to expand programs that demonstrate success in providing dental services to underserved populations, and those programs must provide opportunities for students in dental training programs.