Recent dental hygiene grad shares expertise at home and abroad

Published 01.25.2021

Nursing & Health Sciences
Dental Hygiene
Alumni News

With her keen knowledge of the ties between oral and overall health, recent Pennsylvania College of Technology graduate Lori Dietz hopes to help people near and far.

Here in Pennsylvania, the registered dental hygienist, who earned her bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from Penn College in December, already has a full plate educating and caring for others as a part-time, private-practice dental hygienist and an adjunct clinical instructor for first- and second-year dental hygiene students at Northampton Community College.

Recently, as part of her Penn College senior capstone project, Dietz, of Pen Argyl, educated peers in the dental profession on the role of a dental team in helping patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

Lori Dietz“Obstructive sleep apnea is a condition where the airway is blocked, either partially or fully, by the tongue collapsing or visceral neck fat constricting the airway,” Dietz explained.

She became interested in the topic when the dentist she works for enrolled the office team in a weekend course that taught them about sleep apnea and how to implement dental appliances to help treat their patients with mild to moderate cases.

“Dental sleep appliances are a great alternative to CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure machines), as people will be more tolerant and comply better with appliance therapy,” Dietz explained. “The appliances are called Mandibular Advancement Devices. They bring the jaw down and forward, bringing the tongue out of the airway, allowing air to flow freely and provide better and undisturbed sleep.”

For her capstone project, she built upon what she had learned in the workshop with additional research and the compilation of case studies with her own sleep apnea patients.

“During my research, I learned a lot about the sleep cycles and why it is important to ensure we go through every cycle,” she said. “Body and mind rejuvenation occurs during some of the key sleep stages, and without sleeping properly in these stages, our health is at risk.”

She presented her continuing education session, titled “Don’t Fall Asleep With Your Mouth Open: The dental team’s role in sleep apnea,” at Northampton Community College’s annual Dental Symposium in November. During the online course, which provided professionals with three hours of continuing education units, she provided her case studies – with small-group breakout sessions to discuss them – and other interactive elements to appeal to a variety of learning styles.

“I was grateful that I had chosen to take Application of Teaching and Learning Styles in the Allied Health Professions (one of her Penn College bachelor’s degree courses),” Dietz said. “This course prepared me for understanding the learning styles of my audience and how to convey content in an effective yet understandable manner.”

Dietz said that education has always been important to her, and that her husband, Matt, and three children have been supportive as she pursued her degree.

“Penn College has always been my choice for a bachelor of dental hygiene program,” said Dietz, who earned an associate degree in dental hygiene from Northampton Community College in 2002. “I have known about the program for a very long time, but I was not ready to pursue my bachelor’s degree until 2019.”

A few months after starting the bachelor’s degree program, she met another longtime goal by becoming a clinical instructor in October 2019. (“I am happy that I can bring education full circle to my alma mater of Northampton Community College,” Dietz said.)

“The bachelor’s degree program at Penn College has been very rewarding, as I have learned so much more, not only in the dental hygiene profession, but it has opened my eyes to the world of public health and how dental hygiene can be integrated.”

Dietz loves the versatility available in dental hygiene. Thus far, it has provided her with the opportunity to travel to Switzerland, where she accepted a job offer just after her associate degree graduation and spent a year and a half in the country, and to Brazil where, in 2019, she joined a team from Hand of Hope Ministries to treat and care low-income and small Amazon River communities.

“Missions stole my heart, and I plan on participating in many more to come as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic ends,” she said. “Knowing the connection between oral health and overall health is what drives me to ensure those who lack access to dental care are educated.”

She’s decided to continue her own education to help meet that goal, pursuing a Master of Public Health-Dental Emphasis from A.T. Still University.

“This degree will allow me to teach didactic courses at a collegiate level, as well as open many other doors, through which I hope to be able to travel and educate individuals who lack dental care access around the world,” Dietz said.

“Dental hygienists have many opportunities to expand on their knowledge and really give back to the community, whether through educational forums or clinic-style outreach,” she added. “We are truly one of the only professions who focus on preventive health as opposed to tertiary care.”

Penn College offers an associate degree in dental hygiene and is one of two higher education institutions in Pennsylvania that offer a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene. Registered dental hygienists, who already hold an associate degree, can complete their bachelor’s degree coursework online. To learn more, call 570-327-4519 or visit the School of Nursing & Health Sciences.

For information about Penn College, a national leader in applied technology education, email the Admissions Office or call toll-free 800-367-9222.