Gadsden State Community College’s Valley Street Campus is set to launch its new Dental Science program and has named a director.
Karen Tyree, a Gadsden native and Litchfield High School graduate, will lead the program, which will offer its first training program, Dental Assisting, with its first cohort of students in the 2023 Spring Semester.
“I’m excited to be a part of this new program,” Tyree said in a news release from the college. “I’m excited about sharing my passion, knowledge and experience with the students.”
The former Student Center on the Valley Street Campus (a Historically Black University or College) has been transformed into a hands-on dental assisting lab equipped with professional-grade dental chairs, tools and equipment; a dental impression lab; and X-ray equipment.
“This new Gadsden State program will prepare students who doctors can trust are experienced, skilled, prepared and ready to work,” Tyree said. “A dental practice cannot function without a dental assistant, so their role is so important.”
Tyree has 28 years of experience in dental assisting and dental hygiene after choosing the field, according to a news release from the college, based on unpleasant childhood experiences in the dentist’s chair.
“It wasn’t about what I liked about dentistry that led me to the profession,” she said in the release. “It was about what I didn’t like. I didn’t like my dentist. He wouldn’t listen to me. I feared going to the dentist.”
Tyree said she wanted others’ experiences to be more comfortable and positive.
She received her first training in the field while volunteering with the American Red Cross when her late husband was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Stuttgart, Germany, with the U.S. Army.
Tyree received an associate degree in dental hygiene from South Florida College after returning to the U.S., but her entry into the field was derailed by a breast cancer diagnosis. She returned home to Alabama while undergoing treatment, then moved back to Florida after going into remission, but initially was unable to work as a dental hygienist because of damage to her hands from cancer treatments.
She wanted to continue in the profession, however, and pursued credentials to teach a dental program or manage a dental practice, according to the release, earning a Bachelor of Applied Studies in Dental Hygiene from St. Petersburg College.
Tyree also regained the use of her hands and was able to work as a dental hygienist, working as a “travel hygienist” to fill in for those ill or on vacation, and served as an adjunct clinician at Sanford Brown Institute in Orlando, Florida, and Travis Technical College in Lakeland, Florida.
She moved back to Alabama in 2018 to be closer to family after the death of her father.
Tyree brings an impressive résumé to her new role, with experience in endodontics, oral surgery, orthodontics and both general and pediatric dentistry.
“I will make it my mission to help students understand that there’s so much available to them in dentistry,” she said. “I will also make sure that they understand that dental assistants are the heartbeat of a dental practice. They keep it running.
“A doctor will perform the procedure,” Tyree said, “but the dental assistant makes sure the process is comfortable for the patient. We make sure everything is ready and flowing so the doctor can do his/her best work.”
There will be two credentials available from the GSCC program: an Associate in Applied Science requiring 65 hours of training, and a certificate requiring 49 hours of training.
Tyree will encourage students to complete their general education courses before entering the three-semester DAT program.” We want our students to be able to concentrate on the dental aspect of their training once they’re in the program,” she said.
She said the program will be “very demanding and challenging,” providing both hands-on experience on campus and observation and clinicals at local dental practices.
The program is limited to 20 students and the deadline to apply is Oct. 31. The admission standings:
• Must be in good standing with Gadsden State
• Must maintain a C or better on all general and pre-DAT courses
• Must have at least a 2.0 GPA on general education courses
• Must pass a criminal and consumer background check
• Must pass a drug test
• Must meet the essential functions required by the DAT program
Students also must have an application to the college and all official high school and college transcripts on file in the Gadsden State Admissions Office.
Tyree said there are plans to expand the program to include credentials in dental hygiene.
“The Dental Science program is going to continue to grow,” she said. “The program is a great benefit to this area. Students no longer have to drive to other cities to train as dental assistants, and doctors don’t have to look outside of our community to find good assistants. This is a wonderful program for the communities Gadsden State serves.”
For more information or to apply to the Dental Assisting program, visit gadsdenstate.edu/dentalassisting.