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UC Blue Ash Grads on a Mission to Make People Smile


Two new graduates from the dental hygiene program at UC Blue Ash College recently went on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic and left hundreds of people smiling.

Audrey Herman and Claire Tonnis graduated from UC Blue Ash with associate degrees in dental hygiene technology in spring 2015. They spent part of their summer on a mission trip with Project Mañana, a group that is affiliated with churches across the U.S.  The trip was based in Santiago, Dominican Republic, but much of the work was focused on helping villagers in rural areas outside of the city.

The mission had multiple purposes that included teaching bible school, building a retaining wall, and showing villagers how to make water filters for clean water. Herman and Tonnis also put their education and experience to work by providing free oral health exams to approximately 200 people; most had never visited a dentist. They did all of this over two days in a makeshift ‘dental clinic’ that was set up outdoors with a few tables and chairs.  The hygienists had to stand while each treated 50 patients per day.

Audrey Herman performs an oral health exam in a makeshift 'dental clinic in the Dominican Republic.

Audrey Herman performs an oral health exam in a makeshift ‘dental clinic in the Dominican Republic.

“It was kind of rough but it was such a great experience. We saw things that you only saw in textbooks, in terms of decay and damage,” says Herman, who is from West Chester and graduated from Lakota West High School. “We had to have conversations through translators with some of the villagers, advising them to have some of their teeth removed due to the damage.”

Even with some of the patients suffering from oral health problems that were years in the making, they all appreciated Herman and Tonnis taking the time to provide the free care. “You could see the smiles on everyone’s faces when we were done treating them.  They couldn’t stop smiling; that was very rewarding,” says Tonnis, a graduate of McAuley High School and a Colerain Township resident.

The dental care was possible thanks to donations from the UC Blue Ash Dental Hygiene Clinic that included dental masks, gloves and teeth cleaning instruments. The college also provided plenty of floss, toothbrushes and toothpaste, which the new grads gave to their patients, along with an education about caring for their oral health.

“The teeth cleanings we provided might not make a big impact, but we were able to show them how to care for their teeth and gums, and hopefully that will improve their health and the health of their children,” says Tonnis.

The two say the education they received in the dental hygiene program at UC Blue Ash prepared them well for the experience in the Dominican Republic.  “It was demanding and at times stressful, but seeing how it prepared us for this amazing experience and for our professional careers makes it all worth it,” says Herman.

The mission is just one part of the journey that has seen Herman and Tonnis become very close friends since meeting during orientation in their freshman year at UC Blue Ash. Even after graduation, they still see each other nearly every day – by coincidence or fate they were hired to work in the same dentist office, Wallace Group Dentistry, where they bring the same passion for oral health to their patients as they did in their mission work.  The chairs are just a lot more comfortable.

About UC Blue Ash College

UC Blue Ash College is a regional college within the University of Cincinnati. It offers one of the best values in higher education with access to a nationally recognized UC education in nearly 50 degrees and certificates, as well as tuition that is about half of most colleges and universities. The college is located on a scenic 135-acre wooded campus in the heart of Blue Ash, Ohio.

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