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CHS Dental Assistant Program Receives Seal of Approval From Dental Community

            Following 38 years caring for the smiles of patients, retired Cleburne dentist Dr. Ron Sherwood is back in scrubs and lab coat, preparing Cleburne High School seniors to become registered dental assistants.

Sherwood is serving as an “industry expert” on the CHS faculty in this latest addition to the Career and Technical Education health science career cluster. He and his students recently welcomed parents and members of Cleburne’s dental community to an open house to share information on the dental assistant program and showcase the industry-standard equipment and lab providing skills training.

“After seeing the facility and equipment, along with talking with Dr. Sherwood, I am confident that our students who successfully complete the program will be fully prepared to enter the workforce as dental assistants,” Cleburne Orthodontist Dr. Jason Tennison said. “It’s wonderful that these students will also be learning with dental professionals in our community.”

Tennison Orthodontics is among the dental offices establishing facility agreements with the CHS dental assistant program. Through these partnerships, Cleburne students will be given the opportunity to observe, assist staff and take x-rays once they pass the state’s registered dental assistant exam, which they are preparing for now.

“I have been in contact with dentists and orthodontists about partnering with our program,” Sherwood said. “We were very pleased with their response, and their attendance at the Open House. We wanted to give them a chance to meet our students and learn more about our program in the hopes of having partnerships in place by the spring.”

“We want to send our students out into the ‘real world’ in January, to have our them observing in dental offices two days a week throughout the second semester of school,” Sherwood said. “They will be helping the dental hygienist and learning more about infection control. They will also be taking x-rays and will work chair side if the dentist allows. I hope they’ll have opportunities to sit through the morning office huddle, which was how we always began the day at my office. I want my students to know about all the jobs and roles within dentistry. I want to expose them to all of it.”

Students in the dental assistant double block class have been soaking up information included in RDA exam since the first week of school. The exam covers three modules, beginning with the laws and standards behind their role as a registered dental assistant, from the Texas Dental Practice Act and the Texas State Board of Dental Examiners to professional conduct and the minimum standard of care.

From there, students have been instructed in the infection control aspects of their role, from hand hygiene to sterilization techniques, instrument processing and medical waste. Module III addresses work with x-rays and includes radiologic principles and theory, radiation biology and techniques for dental radiography.

“In August, they didn’t know occlusal from mesial,” Sherwood said. “Now they are days away from taking the state exam. I have 14 wonderful seniors. We conducted interviews last May to determine who would be enrolling in this program. Every candidate had to have one year of medical terminology or pharmacology as a prerequisite for the program. All these students want to be in this class. I have kids who have the ability to be a dentist. Several want to be a hygienist or orthodontic assistant.”

Lauren Bicknell is among Sherwood’s students who wants to continue on to college to become a dental hygienist.

“This class is giving me the chance to dip my toe in the water—to start learning before I get to college,” Bicknell said. “There has been so much to learn. The biggest thing so far has been learning to make impressions. I’ve really enjoyed that. It’s made me feel how it will be when I do things like that on the job. I’m very excited to get to do what we’ve been learning in class when we go to dental offices next semester.”

Classmate Haley Jones said she has always wanted to do something in the medical field, and the dental assistant program looked interesting to her.

“I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do in that career field and this looked interesting,” she said. “I’ve enjoyed learning how to make impressions—that’s been a favorite with a lot of us.”

The day the ADEC simulators—head mannequins in half a chair—were installed in their classroom lab resembled the excitement of children on Christmas morning. Donning gloves, Sherwood’s students quickly became acquainted with the air/water syringes and suction devices—and their two “patients,” which they have named Fred and Ethel.

“We still have some things to add, but we’ll be able to run this classroom like a practice when all the equipment is in,” Sherwood said. “They have definitely enjoyed working with the simulators. When they learn about tooth extraction, that unit will include teaching students how to tie sutures. They will be practicing on poultry from the grocery store, as they make cuts, then suture.”

Becoming proficient in the making temporary crowns, night guards and denture repairs is a part of the skills criteria. But Sherwood is also committed to instilling the value of a positive chair-side manner and the importance of patient care in his students—as future dental professionals.

“I want them to know good, ethical work practices,” he said. “Verbal skills--on the phone or in person--are critical in the dental office. I want them to be effective and positive in their work with patients. I want them to treat a patient the way they would like to be treated.”

Sherwood had the opportunity to provide his students with a “day of dentistry” in attending the Southwest Dental Conference, sponsored by the Dallas County Dental Society. The CHS students attended four one-hour lectures for dental assistants.

“They learned a lot,” Sherwood said. “Each session provided some great instruction that was engaging and interesting.  It reinforced what I’ve been teaching in class, so that was cool. We also walked through the exhibit hall, which they enjoyed.”

The Cleburne dentist believes his students are ready for their first major step in the process of becoming registered dental assistants, in taking the certification exam.

“There is no reason all 14 of these kids can achieve their RDA,” he said. “Early on, I could tell from their responses that they were catching it—they were getting hold of what I was teaching. They are ready for the test.”

            After they pass the RDA exam, Sherwood’s students will still have to wait until graduation before they receive their certification document. Under state law, registered dental assistants must have completed high school and be 18 years of age. They will also have to be fingerprinted, as they will be working around prescription medications.

            For those who are in the dental profession, the availability of the program at the high school level is impressive—and something they wish had been in place when they were in school.

            “I’m blown away,” Dr. Eric Braunlin said. “It’s a unique opportunity for anyone interested in health care. I wish something like this was in place when I was in high school. It definitely gives a leg up for a students interested in dentistry as a career.”



Cleburne High School senior Haley Jones works with Dr. Ron Sherwood in the process of creating an impression, one of the skills she is learning in the new dental assistant program at Cleburne High School. Sherwood, who is a retired Cleburne dentist with 38 years in the profession, serves as an industry expert on the CHS faculty as the program instructor.