School of Dental Medicine students provide free screenings for exit board exams

Year four dental medicine major Nicholas Sampalis, of Orland Park, Illinois, cleans a patient at the free screenings event Monday afternoon. Students were supervised by their professors while manning most of the operations for the event.

In order to find patients for their exit board exams, fourth-year SIU School of Dental Medicine students recently provided free screenings for community members. 

According to the Dental School fourth year class president Kelsie Hinkl of Granite City, Illinois, the students used x-rays as well as an extra-oral examination to determine if community members were eligible for the clinical licensing examination. 

“What we’ve been offering to the public is for them to come in for a dental screening,” Hinkl said. “What we do is take x-rays of their teeth, we do an intra-oral and extra-oral examination, go through their health and see if they could sit as a patient for the board exam.” 

When doing the screenings, dental students kept in mind specific criteria necessary for the boards.

According to Alexis Polczynski, SIU School of Dental Medicine student body president and third-year student, of Okawville, Illinois, the board exam consists of Class II and Class III fillings, which are cavities between the front and posterior teeth, as well as scaling and root planing, a type of deep cleaning. 

Hinkl said if a student examiner believes a person they screened meets the requirements for the boards, the student notified Interim Clinical Dean Kathy Shafer, who will then assign patients to the students. 

Hinkl said she expects to be notified of her patients within two weeks and plans to contact them prior to the date of the board exam. 

“We want to be in contact with our patients so that way we can give them a good heads-up of how the day runs, meet with them a couple of times if possible and just make sure that they’re going to feel very comfortable and well-taken care of for the day of the board exam,” Hinkl said. 

As the requirements for the exam are specific, not all who attended the free screenings were eligible for the boards. However, if the students       recognized another dental concern, Polczynski said the students could recommend seeking treatment. 

“We can recommend that they see their dentist or they can become a full-time patient at the school, but they can’t be used for the actual board exam,” Polczynski said.

The free screenings also promoted awareness of the SIU School of Medicine clinics, according to Hinkl. 

While there are three clinic locations, Alton, East St. Louis and Edwardsville, the free screenings took place at the Alton clinic. 

Hinkl said the East St. Louis and Edwardsville locations are reserved for special circumstances and patients must contact Alton before visiting these locations. The doctorate program requires all third-year and fourth-year students to gain experience working at the clinics.

“[The free screening days] also bring awareness to what we do at the dental school, in our clinic and what services we can provide in the future,” Hinkl said. “People don’t always know about our dental clinic, so I do think it’s a good opportunity to let patients know that we do provide comprehensive care year round on a daily basis, not just a couple times a year.” 

Shafer said she believes experience acquired at the free screenings and at the clinics will help students be less anxious come April 1 and 2, the dates that year-four students take their boards. 

“Even though they’ve been doing all these procedures for a long time in the clinic and on their patients, it’s still a nerve-wracking procedure for them, so they appreciate the opportunity to find patients for the boards,” Shafer said. 

The clinics also benefit their patients by accepting Medicaid insurance, something Polczynski said is a rarity in the area, and providing affordable care for those without insurance. 

“We take Medicaid insurance, which most dental offices don’t, so we have a lot of patients who are on Medicaid,” Polczynski said. “If they don’t have insurance in the first place, we reduce fees because it’s the students that are providing the treatment, so treatment usually takes longer in general.”

For Polczynski, gaining experience is only part of the equation when working in the Alton clinic — she said it is also personally rewarding. 

“It’s been fulfilling to see patients coming in with a poor oral health state and then in working with us over the course of a few months or years they get to a point where they’re in a stable place and their teeth are in a good position,” Polczynski said. 

For more information about the services the School of Dental Medicine provides, visit




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