In the early 1970s, Joplin dentists John Windle and Dr. J.W. McAlister went looking for dental hygienists. They couldn’t find one outside the Kansas City area. Eventually, when a hygienist turned up, they agreed to share her among their practices.
Something had to be done. The two Joplin dentists joined with Missouri State Sen. Richard Webster get the legislation and money necessary to form the first-ever dental hygiene program at Missouri Southern.
“We were all members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity,” says Windle, now retired. “So we had that in common. We had to work on legislation and funding.”
Soon another Joplin dentist, Dr. Donald Crockett, joined in the effort.
After many months of work, the dental hygiene program became a reality. When Missouri Southern looked for a head of the clinic, the college turned to hygienist Mary Ann Gremling. However, she was who was working for Windle and McAlister.
“It took us almost a year to get a replacement,” Windle recalls with a laugh.
A total of 16 students took part in the first-ever dental hygiene program. As part of training, cleanings and other services were offered to the public at a low cost.
In 1994, Dr. Crockett established the Donald Crocket Fund. The endowment supports the program and its students by providing perpetual funding for student scholarships and program needs.
The MSSU Dental Hygiene program is celebrating its 40th anniversary during the 2015-16 school year.
Much has changed in four decades.
Compared to the one clinic 40 years ago, the Dental Hygiene Clinic today is comprised of three clinics – one at the Julio León Health Science Building at MSSU, with two more in Rolla and Sikeston, Mo.
“The growth has been amazing,” says Dr. Tia Strait, dean of the School of Health Sciences. “We’re really grateful to those local dentists and the people here 40 years ago who saw the need and got it started.”
Dr. Stacie Scrivner, chair of the department, says 82 students are enrolled this year – 55 in Joplin, with 17 more at Rolla and 12 at Sikeston.
The three clinics provide dental cleanings, X-rays and other preventive services to children over age 5, students, people with special needs and senior citizens. The cost is $20 for the public and alumni, and $10 for MSSU students.
“The lower-income people we wanted to service were not being serviced,” Windle says. “Southern is as close to that service as I know how to get.”
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