FARMINGTON — Local children learned first-hand this week that there's much more to dentistry than brushing, flossing and filling in cavities.

San Juan College's Kids Kollege brought 12 youths to the campus dental clinic for a weeklong immersion program. Participants learned how to do everything from polishing teeth to conducting an X-ray under the supervision of the college's dental hygiene program faculty and six honors students.

"It really brings together the college's resources and expertise," said Sherry Paxson, a dental hygiene faculty member. "Every year, we have parents commenting that their kids are very excited about dentistry. It gets them interested. Even if they go on to another health science profession, we've met our goal."

Saskia Van Maanen practices cleaning teeth on a dental mannequin during a Kids Kollege dental camp on Friday at San Juan College in Farmington.
Saskia Van Maanen practices cleaning teeth on a dental mannequin during a Kids Kollege dental camp on Friday at San Juan College in Farmington. (Jon Austria The Daily Times)

Over the past week, dental camp participants have done tooth polishing, poured dental molds, done X-rays, practiced suturing on pig skin and seen demonstrations on local anaesthesia and nitrous oxide gas administration, Paxson said.

"I think they have more confidence that they can do this," said Tammy Sanderson, a dental hygiene faculty member. "What they say is how engaging it is. We do want summertime learning to be fun."

The program has inspired at least one participant to learn more about dentistry.

"I like it because it gives me something to do for the summer," said Cricket Meechan, 12. "I like it because I want to be a dentist."

The experience has been fulfilling for the dental program's honors students as well.

"It's been a great experience working with the younger kids," said Sarah Gutierrez, a dental hygiene student. "It helps us remember what we've been taught, and it's fun to apply what we've learned to put classes together. It makes us excited for the future of dental hygiene."

The Kids Kollege is an annual summer program for youth between 4 and 15 years old. The college's School of Continuing Education offers the program.

"Learning is fun," said Liesl Dees, a spokeswoman for Kids Kollege. "We recognize that kids have a whole range of interests and passions. It's our faculty that step up to really open these facilities. This makes it accessible."

Esther Villers, a dental hygiene student, said the experience has been amazing.

"(The kids) pick up on things really well," she said. "The experience has been above and beyond what I thought. They've all been really interactive."

Greg Yee covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and gyee@daily-times.com. Follow him @GYeeDT on Twitter.