Dental Hygiene Students Teach Professionals to Recognize Domestic Abuse

In the Pacific University School of Dental Hygiene Studies, serving those in need is a cornerstone.

Students in the two-year bachelor’s program work in an on-campus clinic, provide care for underserved populations — and complete a senior capstone project designed to result in action.

That passion for making a difference brought Amy Coplen from six years in hygiene practice to teaching in the program — and that drives her work with students today.

“I thought that if I could impact the students who would then impact their own patient’s lives every day, I would be able to expand the difference I was able to make,” she said

Coplen is one of several faculty members in the dental hygiene program who help mentor students through their senior projects, trying to identify community needs and develop ideas for meeting those needs.

“My personal interests lie in helping those types of individuals who are more underserved,” Coplen said. “Those who are pushing the margins of society, those are usually the groups I choose to mentor, because they line up with my personal passions.”

In 2016, Coplen mentored a team of seniors who focused their capstone project on helping dental hygienists identify and care for patients who may experience domestic abuse.

Dental hygienists are often in a unique position to identify injuries common to domestic violence — but they generally do not receive training on how to get their patients help.

Coplen mentored Gold Obi ‘16, Adrienne Thuston ‘16 and Mandana Talebi ’16 in researching domestic violence injuries and resources, and in developing an educational program for dental hygienists. Though they originally planned to create a presentation about their findings, they ultimately wrote an article, hoping to spread their message farther.

The piece, “Love shouldn’t hurt (in the dental office too),” was published in Registered Dental Hygienist, one of the nation’s leading magazines for the profession.  

“We wrote the article to increase the awareness of practicing dental hygienists and dentists of the possibility that they could be treating someone who has faced or experienced domestic violence,” Coplen said.

“I know one person, who practices part time and teaches part time, who took the article into their office, developed a strategy and identified resources that they are going to make available to their patients.”

That sort of direct impact is just what Coplen hopes will inspire her students.  

“My goal is to continue reaching out to the underserved populations,” she said. “Hopefully it will inspire students to do the same when they leave, to give back to their communities, but to also work with and help those with the lowest access to health care.” 

Feb. 3, 2017