A dental hygiene student looks on as a dentist works.
A dental hygiene student looks on as a dentist works.

Georgia Perimeter College is beginning a massive fundraising effort to revamp its dental hygiene clinic.

Nestled on the college’s Dunwoody campus, the 20-chair dental hygiene clinic serves as a teaching resource for students as well as a place where about 5,000 people get their teeth cleaned each year.

But the facility has become outdated. In 2008, the American Dental Association reported that the school needed to increase the size of its dental operatories, the areas where dental hygienists work. GPC’s operatories are narrow and rectangular, built to the standards of the 1970s when the clinic was built.

So in January, the college began a drive to raise $8 million in private funds to rebuild the clinic and purchase new equipment.

“Usually we get support from the state,” said Heather Pharris, development officer for GPC’s allied health and services.

But due to the budget constraints within the University System of Georgia, Pharris said, it likely would have been a decade before the state could provide the college with the funds to upgrade its dental hygiene clinic.

“GPC believes the clinic is important enough to the college, important enough to the community … that we are looking for that outside support,” Pharris said.

Of the $8 million the college is hoping to raise, $2.5 million would be used to build the new clinic and purchase equipment and the remainder would be put toward programming.

Debbie Davis, the Dental Hygiene Department chair at Georgia Perimeter College, said they feel the program is especially important because how critical dental hygiene is for overall health. Many connections have been made between oral health and other illnesses, like heart disease and diabetes.

“Ninety percent of all diseases have their first manifestations in the mouth,” Davis said.

Pharris said the college has put together a group of local dental professionals and public health to help raise funds. “We’ve got boots on the ground that are starting to actively solicit now,” Pharris said.

Davis said the current clinic will stay up and running while a new clinic is built. Then, the old clinic will be demolished and rebuilt as administrative space.

“It’s not going to bring additional cars,” Davis said. “Once this one is built, the other clinic will go down.”

Students need 600 to 700 hours of clinical experience to graduate from the two year program. Davis said many students and staff members of the college have their teeth cleaned there and the clinic is open to the public for $30 a visit.

Students also use the facility for community service work, such as providing some free treatments for low income children in DeKalb County, Davis said.

“The clinic has been around for a long time. I just don’t think Dunwoody realized it was here,” Davis said.