Rose Loughran still remembers the first time she came to SIU’s annual Give Kids a Smile Day. She had tagged along with her dad, Tim Loughran, a Herrin dentist who has practiced about 35 years.
She watched as SIU dental hygiene students and faculty, along with volunteer dentists and hygienists from the community, literally “gave smiles.”
Volunteering leads to career
She leant a hand here and there that year as children from infants to age 14 who don’t receive regular dental treatment or have regular access to dental care got free examinations, x-rays, cleanings, fluoride treatments, sealants, fillings and even simple extractions at the university’s Dental Hygiene Clinic.
She also observed as the youngsters were taught about good dental care.
Rose was a junior at Carterville High School but despite the family history in the dental field – her grandmother Anne Loughran, 92, was a dental hygienist as is her aunt, Christine Wendte – Rose wasn’t sure what she career path she wanted to take.
Father Knows Best
After being part of the event for several years, though, Tim had a feeling.
“As I got to work with the students and talked with them I thought what a good fit the program and a dental hygiene career would be for my daughter,” he said.
He’d go home each year after volunteering his time and tell Rose about his experience. Eventually, she decided to check it out. She was so impressed, she returned her senior year, watching what was taking place and talking to the hygiene students.
“I loved the hands-on nature of the program and how interested everyone was. The faculty were really excited and welcoming. And the students seemed like they were really happy and enjoying what they were going. I wanted to be part of it,” she recalls.
She was hooked so she enrolled in SIU’s Dental Hygiene Program, the only dental hygiene bachelor’s degree program in Illinois and one of few in the country.
She participated in Give Kids a Smile while completing her degree, which she received in 2017, and returned as a registered dental hygienist volunteer this spring.
Passionate about Helping Children
“One of my favorite things to do, even when I was in school, was to help younger children,” Rose said. “I love that I can help kids that maybe don’t get regular dental care. But one of my biggest things about going into dental hygiene is because I want to educate people. I love teaching kids about dental health and how important it is. It really makes you feel good to do something like this.”
Rose also visits elementary classrooms when she gets the chance, teaching children how to take good care of their teeth and why it’s so important to their overall health and well-being. She hopes she can inspire SIU’s dental hygiene students as well.
Give Kids a Smile debuted at SIU in 2003. About 125 children from all over the region got free dental care during the 2018 event. That care was provided by 90 SIU dental hygiene students and 10 faculty along with about a dozen volunteer community dentists and hygienists.
SIU’s Dental Hygiene Program partners with the Southern Illinois Dental Society and the Southern Illinois Dental Hygiene Society to sponsor the event, providing vital care to kids that otherwise may go years or longer without dental care.
“It’s a great community service,” Tim said. “It also benefits the dental hygiene students. It gives them a chance to pick up the pace, and see what it’s like to practice in the real world. They have the opportunity to work with different dentists and hygienists from the community, too. And, it introduces more people to the Dental Hygiene Clinic and all of the services it provides.”
Coming Full Circle
For Rose, returning to the 2018 Give Kids a Smile was truly “coming full circle” from a high school visitor, to an SIU student, to a registered hygienist caring for young patients.
“Seeing the clinic again made me excited,” she said with a smile.
Recent months have also represented a personal full-cycle journey for Rose.
“My grandmother was my very first patient as a registered hygienist,” Rose said. “I can recite her journey by heart. I know how much she loved her profession. She’s my shining star and I’m proud that I’m now a dental hygienist.”