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Dental Hygiene Volunteers at Iowa Mission of Mercy

    Emilie Jenson, Public Information Office

Iowa Central Dental Hygiene students volunteered their time and services recently when they traveled to Waterloo to participate in the Iowa Mission of Mercy (IMOM) free dental clinic.

Held in the Sullivan Brothers Plaza Waterloo Convention Center, the two-day IMOM event offered cleanings, fillings, x-rays, endodontic, periodontic and pediatric dentistry services and minor oral surgery procedures at no cost to patients on a first come- first served basis. The 2023 event took place October 13-14.

Dental Hygiene instructors Amber Elbert, Emma Degner and Jodi Major, along with Renee Piper, Dental Hygiene program coordinator, attended the event with 30 first and second-year dental hygiene students for the daylong experience. Students assisted dentists and hygienists with x-rays, cleanings, anesthesia, pediatric dentistry, equipment sterilization, triage, and offered interpretation services when needed.

The students said the event challenged them as future hygienists by seeing more severe dental cases than they would normally see in their campus clinic.  

“They get experience with seeing more in-depth dental health histories than you see in our hygiene clinic,” said Piper. “Our students had the opportunity to see extractions and the inside of teeth in restorative. The cases at IMOM are more serious; we saw a lot of people with a lot of different needs.”

Second-year student Abby Melohn worked with three dentists during the morning shift event where she observed the administration of anesthesia and full mouth extractions.

“It was interesting to watch how each dentist worked,” said Melohn. “Seeing how they used multiple syringes and how every dentist has their own way of doing procedures was fun.”

First year students assisted with triage and sterilization and provided support services such as childcare.

“Assisting in triage, you see a little of everything,” said Savanna Wheeler, a first-year student.

Besides providing dental services, first-year student Dani Lobato was able to step in and offer language interpretation when needed.

“We were fortunate to have bi-lingual students who could help with patients needing interpretation,” said Piper. “Dani stayed very busy.”

For second-year student Morgan Hemann, IMOM was a hands-on learning experience, but it also provided lessons in gratitude.

“It’s humbling to see the extent that some people will go to get free dental care because they have such a need for it,” said Hemann. “It was raining, and they waited outside- some of them overnight- they were wet and then waited in lines all day, but everyone was so happy to see us and thanked us for our efforts.”

“Every student writes a reflection on their experience when we get back,” said Piper. “They all talk about what a humbling and eye-opening experience it is for them.”

The IMOM event was also an opportunity for students to meet with other hygiene students, registered dental hygienists, Iowa Central graduates, and dentists from across the state.

“It’s a great networking opportunity,” said Piper. “We’ve had students get interviews and even job offers from this event. And it is fun to see our graduates helping out, many of them started volunteering as students and have continued to do so in the years since.”

The 2023 IMOM event served 1,081 patients and provided 5,921 procedures valued at $955,252. Since it began in 2008, Iowa Mission of Mercy has treated more than 16,000 patients from all areas of Iowa and the surrounding states and has provided free dental care totaling over $10 million.

“Thousands of people received some kind of treatment or dental care that day,” said Piper. “I am proud that we were able to be a part of it.”

Iowa Central Dental Hygiene Students hold clinics by appointment. Appointments can be made by contacting the clinic at 515-574-1327

For more information on the Iowa Central Dental Hygiene Program visit



Dental Hygiene Volunteers at Iowa Mission of Mercy

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