UW School of Dentistry

Delta Dental gives $1 million for dental hygiene training at UW

Delta Dental of Washington has announced a $1 million grant to the University of Washington School of Dentistry to support a partnership between Shoreline Community College’s Dental Hygiene Program and the dental school. In addition, to further the growth of the program, Delta Dental will issue a $500,000 challenge grant to match funds raised by area dental and dental hygienist societies this year.

Shoreline dental hygiene student Vanessa Wardell prepares for clinic at the UW School of Dentistry.
Shoreline dental hygiene student Vanessa Wardell prepares for clinic at the UW School of Dentistry.

The funds will help cover the costs of renovations needed to accommodate expansion of Shoreline’s dental hygienist training program at the UW. Shoreline Community College is contributing $1.5 million to the expansion, and the School of Dentistry has also earmarked $1.5 million from its Campaign for Clinics fund-raising drive.

Shoreline’s highly regarded two-year program is considered one of the best in the state, and talks between the two schools quickly revealed an interest in collaborating on a long-term plan to allow the program to expand. In the fall of 2020, 10 Shoreline students in the second year of their program began training at the UW. This summer, the program will fully relocate to the UW with the dental hygiene students continuing to earn their degree from Shoreline Community College.

Delta Dental’s support will enable the program to expand quickly. With the dental community’s help, the goal is to enroll 25 students per year, hopefully within two years.

A 2020 Department of Health survey of dentists, hygienists, and dental assistants found that:

  • Dental hygienist positions in Washington are open an average of four months before being filled.
  • For every hygienist seeking a position, there are over four positions available.
  • The greatest number of open hygienist positions were in King and Snohomish counties with over 550 openings at the time of the survey.

“When the Seattle King County Dental Society approached us about the challenges at the Shoreline Community College Dental Hygiene Program, we knew we needed to do something,” said Delta Dental of Washington President and CEO Mark Mitchke. “Given our partnership with the Washington State Dental Association, we have made a commitment to address the dental hygienist and assistant workforce shortage in Washington state. Ensuring that our state’s future dental hygienists have access to high-quality education is the first of many activities we will embark on together.”

He added, “We applaud the University of Washington’s commitment to sustaining the Shoreline dental hygiene program and increasing the number of graduates to the historical level of 25 per year at minimum.”

The need for dental hygienists in our state is expected to grow, and the door is open for further expansion of the UW-Shoreline program, given the urgent need documented by workforce data.

“Obtaining a match to the challenge grant will enable aspirational planning for even larger class sizes to better serve our state,” Dean Gary Chiodo of the School of Dentistry and President Cheryl Roberts of Shoreline said in a joint statement. “Over the next few months, we will work closely with our partners at Delta Dental of Washington, the Washington State Dental Association, and the Washington Dental Hygienists’ Association to raise the matching funds from additional dental and dental hygiene societies throughout the state.”

When the two schools announced their partnership last year, Dean Chiodo said, “The integrated programs created a model for dental and dental hygiene education.” Having dental hygiene students learn and practice in tandem with dental students, he said, mimics the way in which they would work together in dental offices after graduation.

In their joint statement, he and Dr. Roberts cited another advantage. The School of Dentistry has robust programs of care for pediatric and medically compromised patients as well as those with special needs. The dental hygiene students will now have the opportunity to work with these patients, further enriching their training.

“This is an exciting time for the advancement of oral health in Washington, and the Shoreline-School of Dentistry partnership is exactly the right combination at the right moment,” the two leaders said.