Dental hygiene students look for patients for licensure exams


Eduardo Castillo

Wichita State dental hygiene student Allyssa Kirkham examines her sister’s teeth.

Dental Licensure exams are notoriously stressful for students getting ready to graduate. They can make or break a student’s career. At Wichita State, dental hygiene students are getting ready for their clinical examinations — the board exams.

Licensure is a process every dentist must go through at least once during his or her professional life in order to practice dentistry. In the United States, licensure requirements vary from state to state, and all applicants must meet three basic requirements: education, written examination, and clinical examination.

Dental hygiene students prepare for their board exams for months. Now they’re at that point when everything they’ve done to prepare comes to fruition.

Megan Courtois is a senior dental hygiene student getting ready to take the Dental Hygiene Boards.

She said her senior year has been all about practical knowledge and experience. The point is to prepare for a career as a dental hygienist.  

“It’s a lot of group projects and it’s a lot of preparation for the written boards and the clinical boards and seeing more difficult patients so we can get ready for real life,” Courtois said.

The written boards already happened in March, during spring break.

The 350 questions for the written boards are split into two parts. The first part is 200 questions on general dental hygiene. The second part is 150 case study questions.

Courtois said the second part is more treatment based. Students are given an example of a patient who would typically come into a clinic and their medical and dental history. Students are then asked different kinds of questions based on that.

The licensure exams come next — what the students are preparing for now. Courtois said dental hygiene students spend a lot of time over the course of the semester practicing on each other to get ready. Next, they begin working on patients — building up to harder patients throughout the term.

“By this time, we’re seeing the hardest patients we’ll probably ever see in our career. But that’s so we’re prepared for our clinical boards,” Courtois said.

The boards require students to find someone with just the right amount of dental work needed to be their subject. That could be the hardest part of the entire process — finding the perfect patient.

“For our boards, we have to have a specific patient with specific amount of build up on the teeth,” Courtois said. “The buildup has to be enough but not too much, and it has to be in very specific locations.”

Allyssa Kirkham invited The Sunflower over to see what she was working on with her patient during our visit. Kirkham is in her second semester in the dental hygiene program. She has two semesters remaining.

Kirkham’s patient was none other than her twin sister, Alison Kirkham.

“Today, I did a complete assessment on my patient. I just kind of looked at all of her tissues and her gums to make sure everything looked normal, clinically,” Allysssa Kirkham said. “So we do this by kind of feeling around and making sure that their lymph nodes and their thyroid gland and all of that is normal.”

Afterwards, Kirkham charted restorations and took oral pictures. Having her sister there as a patient worked out well for both parties.

“I am in because she’s my sister and she needed a patient” Alison Kirkham said. “I hate going to dentists, so this was more comfortable. Especially when you know the person.”

Courtois said she’s hopeful that the right patient for her will walk in the door. She’s not the only one. There are a number of students in the same position — still looking for a volunteer to help them pass their exams.  

“I just need to find the right patient with the right amount of buildup in the right places that will come in on that day and agree to be my patient for me,” Courtois said.

WSU’s dental hygiene clinic offers low-cost, preventative, therapeutic, and educational services. The all-ages clinic is open to the public. Treatment is performed by students under the direct supervision of licensed dental hygiene instructors and dentists.

If you’d like to see if you qualify to be a patient for dental hygiene students taking their licensure clinical examinations, please visit or call 316-978-3603.