Serving others through smiles at free dental clinic

While the majority of degrees are obtained through textbook assignments, certain majors need hands-on experience to ensure students are prepared for post-graduation. Minnesota State’s Dental Education Program offers free clinics throughout the year, giving students experience and patients the care they need. 

The original 12-chair clinic was located in the basement of Morris Hall. Senior Clinic Coordinator Pam Briese said after the move to the Clinical Sciences Building, the free clinics started as a way to bring people in to the now 25-chair clinic. 

“We were thinking ‘How can we get people in here? How can we let people know that we exist?’ The clinic is so busy now that students can’t get in till the end of March,” said Briese.

Throughout the year, the dental clinic has two kids days a year along with a seniors day and Health for Heroes, an event for military members. At the free clinics, dental hygiene students perform cleanings, fluoride treatments, X-rays, simple extractions and fillings. 

Briese said students in advanced dental therapy, dental assisting and dental hygiene get to experience real world dental procedures along with collaborating with dentists. 

“Students have to be able to go out and work as a functioning team member and how to communicate with patients, things you can’t teach in a textbook,” said Briese. “When they leave school, they’re ready to just jump right into an office, so it’s an amazing experience for them. 

Senior Natalie Kinkel grew interested in dental hygiene after having dental work done as a child. The children’s clinic days are her favorite days of the year.

“It’s fun to introduce them to dental care and explain what brushing your teeth is like and what flossing is and why it’s important,” said Kinkel. “If kids get comfortable, they’re not going to be scared of the dentist. We just try to make it a positive experience for them.”

Kinkel said it’s important to have clinics where people may not have access to dental care or insurance.

“A lot of lower income families don’t know the importance of dental care for their children. Once we get the word out there, then that gives them opportunity to come in and learn about dental oral health,” said Kinkel.

Young children often experience dental anxiety. Senior Sara Schartau said she involves the children to make them less afraid.

“We’ll get a stuffed animal to show them how to brush their teeth, squirt water across the room with the air syringe or even just handing them the mirror to look at it,” said Schartau. “I feel like what’s helped me a lot with some kids is just letting them hold the instruments to see that we’re not going to hurt them.”

Schartau said getting hands-on experience with patients has prepared her for her career post-graduation. 

“It’s what we’re gonna be doing every day. Each day you’re going to be kind of going through that same routine of kind of getting them in, getting all through their medical history, everything like that. I can slowly just transition in,” said Schartau.

While the clinic on Thursday is only free to children 18 years and younger, patients can call 507-389-2147 or email to request an appointment. 

Header photo:Dental Hygiene students get hands-on experience on patients throughout a variety of free dental clinic days along with scheduled appointments. (Dominic Bothe/The Reporter)

Write to Emma Johnson at

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.