Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

Army spouse Sarina Keasler is just 500 clinic hours away from being a fully trained dental assistant after completing two weeks of classroom instruction at Smith Dental Clinic through the Red Cross Dental Assistant Program.

Sarina Keasler, Red Cross Dental Assistant Program student, assists Dr. Clay Sligh, civilian dentist, as they take dental impressions for a patient Feb. 3 at Smith Dental Clinic. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“The Red Cross Dental Assistant Program is a community outreach program for military spouses to gain valuable job experience in a high need health profession,” said Capt. Tess Kornacki, program director and officer-in-charge of Smith Dental Clinic. “The program offers a well-rounded practical introductory course into the dentistry profession and trains the spouse to become a dental assistant.

“This won’t provide a dental assisting certification, but a Red Cross certificate saying (he or she) has had this job skill training with however many hours completed on the job,” she said. “In Kansas, they don’t require formal training, so it would be a really great opportunity if (the student) wanted to get a job in Kansas.”

Capt. Tess Kornacki, officer in charge of Smith Dental Clinic, talks with Sarina Keasler, Red Cross Dental Assistant Program student, about the topics to be covered in lecture yet that day Jan. 31 at Smith Dental Clinic. Kornacki overseas the Red Cross Dental Assisting Program, which is free to students. Dental clinic staff support the program, providing Keasler with training and hands-on practice. The program is offered to up to two students, dependents of active-duty military, one to two times a year. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

From Jan. 21 to Feb. 3, Keasler learned about dentition, dental law, nutrition, preventive dentistry, oral pathology, assisting skills, dental decay, dental charting, infection control, radiology, taking dental cements and more from various instructors. After completing the required 80 hours of classroom time and passing all of the daily quizzes and final exam, Keasler will spend the next several months shadowing other dental assistants in Smith Dental Clinic and performing various tasks. By May, she will graduate from the program and receive her certificate of completion from Red Cross.

“Receiving a completion certificate from a program of this caliber could open many doors of opportunity and potential employment to the student as they move within the military system,” Kornacki said. “It is just a really good resume builder if you’re wanting to get into the dental field.”

Keasler said she is interested in eventually becoming a dental hygienist, having completed a semester of schooling at Johnson County Community College in the fall of 2019.

“I think this was good training just to get my feet wet,” Keasler said. “I’m a military spouse, so I needed a career that was going to be lucrative and able to transfer every other year without starting completely over.”

Keasler said she learned a lot in the classroom portion of the program.

“It is not just drilling a hole and packing material. There is a lot more to it,” Keasler said. “I originally started doing this so I could feel more comfortable inside of a patient’s mouth, but now I look forward to being confident and showing patients that. Exuding confidence to the patient I think really helps them feel comfortable while they are in the chair.”

Kornacki said Keasler was a good student.

Sarina Keasler, Red Cross Dental Assistant Program student, right, listens to Dr. Camha Nguyen, dentist at Smith Dental Clinic, lead a lecture on universal retainers and matrix bands Jan. 31 at the clinic. Dental clinic staff support the volunteer program, providing Keasler with training and hands-on practice. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

“She is very bright,” Kornacki said. “She’s had a little bit of hygiene school experience, but wasn’t able to finish … so I was really excited to have a student with some dental background already. It has offered me the ability to go a little more in-depth with the training.”

Kornacki said Keasler’s testing is not over just because she passed the classroom portion.

“Throughout the program, I’ve designed some competencies to test her skills,” Kornacki said. “Before the end of the 500 hours, she has to pass those competencies, like taking alginate impressions and performing different procedure setups.”

Capt. Tess Kornacki, officer in charge of Smith Dental Clinic, talks with Sarina Keasler, Red Cross Dental Assistant Program student, about the topics to be covered in lecture yet that day Jan. 31 at Smith Dental Clinic. Kornacki overseas the Red Cross Dental Assisting Program, which is free to students. Dental clinic staff support the program, providing Keasler with training and hands-on practice. The program is offered to up to two students, dependents of active-duty military, one to two times a year. Photo by Prudence Siebert/Fort Leavenworth Lamp

The Red Cross Dental Assistant Program is open to Department of Defense ID card-holders, but there is special preference for military spouses.

“It’s free. If you decide you don’t like it, you don’t have to continue,” Keasler said. “You don’t have anything to lose, but you have everything to gain.”

For more information about the program, call 684-5001.

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