Paulette Kehm is associate professor and director of the Dental Assistant program. She earned her associate degree from Lehigh County Community College. She later earned her bachelor’s degree in Education from Temple University and her master’s degree in Public Administration from Pennsylvania State University.
How did you become involved with Dental Assistant as a career and as a professor?
Started my interest in become a dental assistant when I had orthodontics (braces). I liked what the dental assistant did and felt it would be a good profession. I went to a community college to earn certificate in dental assisting than went back to get my associate degree while working as a dental assistant. My dental assisting instructor told me about a degree offered at Temple University in vocational education. At the time most vocational instructors had experience in their fields but lacked education in teaching. I moved here and became an instructor at East Tennessee State University. I loved the area because it reminded me so much of my home state of Pennsylvania.
How did the Dental Assisting program come into existence at Northeast State?
The state directive required the dental assisting program be moved from its then institution at ETSU to Northeast State in 2004. The program at Northeast State was first based at the Nave Center in Elizabethton. We later moved here to the Regional Center for Health Professions in Kingsport. The program offers a two-year associate of science degree and a technical certificate.
In terms of the health care industry, how do dental assistant students enter the workforce?
Dental assisting students have no difficulty entering the workforce in the Tri-Cities. Most students are offered positions upon graduation from the program. The dental community has long given this program tremendous support in the area of guest lectures, laboratory instruction and clinical practice.
How have perceptions changed about Dental Assistants?
The Dental Assistant position has gained much-needed respect over the years as an important and vital member of the dental team. For example, the dental community has given the dental assistant more responsibility to perform delegated tasks, such as taking radiographs, and make provisional crowns. There are many job opportunities available for a dental assistant in the Tri-Cities. Like most industries, the technology is driving how we teach and expanding responsibilities for dental assistants. For example, x-ray imaging is now being sent to the computer which reduces patient exposure and elimination of chemical processing and impressions as well as crowns are being made in dentists’ offices using 3-D imagery and the CEREC machine. Since the program is ADA/CODA accredited the students gain four (4) state expanded function certificates which are nitrous oxide monitoring, coronal polishing, and dental sealants. In addition, graduates also receive a certificate in radiology to perform x-rays for dental patients.
What does good dental hygiene contribute to overall health?
Dental decay ranks second to the common cold as the most common diseases among the population. People have become more educated about the importance of good dental hygiene. Our teeth were meant to last a lifetime. Your health is connected to dental care because the blood vessels in your body can become susceptible to issues if your teeth are ignored.