Building a Pipeline for Dental Care

LSU Alexandria to Educate Dental Hygienists for Central Louisiana 

With $520K in state support, LSU is expanding the LSU Health New Orleans dental hygiene program to LSU Alexandria to address acute workforce needs in central Louisiana. 

Haywood Joiner

Haywood Joiner, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at LSUA

“Rather than reinventing the wheel, we take advantage of a university that’s statewide, where different campuses can work together to meet critical needs,” said Haywood Joiner, dean of the College of Health and Human Services at LSUA. “We’re doing it with LSU Eunice in extending their surgical technology program to us, and we’re doing it with LSU Health New Orleans for dental hygiene. Our hope, of course, is that students will remain and work in this area after they graduate.” 

One of the LSUA students hoping to do exactly that is Sara Larson from Cheneyville, 25 miles south of Alexandria. She just completed her prerequisite courses and hopes to be accepted into the dental hygiene program at LSUA this fall. 

“This semester, I’m actually working fulltime with my mom, just to gain experience,” Larson said. “She’s a dentist in Ville Platte, where I went to high school, and after school each day, I used to go to her office. That’s what got me interested in dental hygiene. I want to help people keep their teeth. Good oral health can save people a lot of pain, hassle and cost.” 

After she graduates with her Bachelor of Science degree in dental hygiene, Larson hopes to work for a dentist with a practice in the area. 

“Probably in Rapides Parish, or in St. Landry or Evangeline,” she said. “I want to be near my family—that’s why it’s so important for me to complete my education in Alexandria and not have to drive three hours or more to visit.” 

While dentists generally restore teeth to form and function, dental hygienists are licensed oral health professionals who help patients maintain the health of the hard and soft tissues in the mouth, and counsel and educate them on how oral health impacts overall health. It can be a lucrative profession, with annual salaries around $75K in Louisiana. 

“Dentistry has given a lot to me and my family—that’s why I want to help get this program off the ground,” said Wilton Guillory, a retired Alexandria dentist and now interim LSUA dental hygiene program director. “We have an acute shortage of dental hygienists in this area. It’s honestly an ordeal to find one. I went almost a year looking for a hygienist, and then, out of the clear blue, there’s one at my front desk. I told my staff, ‘Drop everything. There’s a hygienist here, and we need her.’”

Meeting the Need for Dental Hygienists

John Moylan

John Moylan, dentist and president of the Central Louisiana Dental Association, sees a “huge need” for dental hygienists in the area.

Kristin Scioneaux

LSU Health New Orleans dental hygiene alumna Kristin Scioneaux works in LaPlace, Louisiana, while commuting from Vacherie.

 Sara Larson

Sara Larson from Cheneyville, 25 miles south of Alexandria, is an LSUA student hoping to join the new dental hygiene program this fall to later work in the area.

Jane Walsh

Jane Walsh, director of the LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry program in dental hygiene says the need for hygienists is so big she “can’t graduate them fast enough. 

Wilton Guillory

Wilton Guillory is a retired Alexandria dentist and now interim LSUA dental hygiene program director.


All parishes in central Louisiana are considered dental health professional shortage areas by the Louisiana Department of Health. All are also considered rural, except for Rapides Parish. 

“I can’t tell you how excited everyone is here about the new LSUA dental hygiene program,” said John Moylan, president of the Central Louisiana Dental Association. “It’s going to bring much needed service to our community.” 

“It can be hard to get people from cities to move to smaller communities, but if you live here for a while, you tend to stay because it’s a great place to live,” Moylan continued. “I didn’t see myself moving from my native Lafayette to Alexandria, but my wife is an orthodontist here and we love it.” 

Moylan experiences a particular challenge on a daily basis, however—the “huge need” for dental hygienists. 

“After opening my practice two years ago, I was finally able to hire two hygienists this past summer, but now one is retiring and the other is cutting back her work, so I have to clean teeth again,” Moylan said. “It’s not like I mind, but they’re better at it. They’re specialized, and it takes me away from doing my best to serve our patients.” 

Kristin Scioneaux is a dental hygienist who graduated from the LSU Health New Orleans dental hygiene program in 2019. She works at Louisiana Dental Center in LaPlace, her hometown, while commuting from Vacherie, her husband’s hometown where they now live. 

“I’m so glad to hear about the expansion of the dental hygiene program to Alexandria; that’s awesome,” Scioneaux said. “Many people can’t afford to move to New Orleans to study and it’s hard to commute. If LSUA can recruit students locally, find people who are from central Louisiana, that’s the best bet for getting more dental hygienists. In LaPlace, we’re lucky—we have four. But our sister offices in Zachary and Kenner, and even in New Orleans, they’re in desperate need for more.” 

No one understands the supply-and-demand equation as well as the life-long security of having a specialized career more than Jane Walsh, director of the LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry program in dental hygiene. 

“I could have every student in a job before they leave; we just can’t graduate them fast enough,” Walsh said. “And in my six years here, nearly every single student has passed their board exams and gotten their license, so our students are very successful.” 

Three out of four dental health professionals working in Louisiana today got their degree from the LSU Health New Orleans School of Dentistry. This includes both dentists and dental hygienists. 

“Our job is to work in tandem with dentists providing preventive care and oral hygiene instructions,” Walsh said. “Our focus is preventative, and we also do a lot of work with schools and outreach in the community. Dental hygiene is a key component of public health.” 

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