PITTSFIELD - When the 11-year-old asked for her hand, Mollie Messana wasn't going to say no.

For any child, a dentist's office can be menacing, with its exotic machinery and metalic scalpel-like tools. The young girl was supposed to receive some Novocain for a tooth filling, and she clutched Messana's hand. Messana, 22, is interning as a dental assistant at Hillcrest Dental Clinics in Pittsfield.

"She didn't know if I could hold her hand, and I said sure, and she squeezed as hard as she can," Messana said.

Messana, a Pittsfield resident, is enrolled in McCann Technical School's post-secondary program, learning to become a dental assistant, and she can feel the profession taking hold.

Not long ago Messana recalls working at the Beacon Theater and munching on sweets, popcorn and soda, landing her some cavities.

Today, she's made her teeth a priority, turning away kisses from her boyfriend if he doesn't brush his teeth and lending a helping hand to Hillcrest dentists - even if that means putting her hands in strangers' mouths.

Dental assistants serve as an extension of dentists, setting up and sterilizing equipment, lending a helping or supportive hand to both patient and dentist, and have many responsibilities to ensure a seemless procedure that doesn't keep people awkwardly leaving their mouth open. There is strong demand because of an aging senior population and greater access to care at younger levels, according to the McCann website.


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Like so many, Messana had been neglecting her teeth, but she has since become a model of good hygiene, brushing twice a day for at least two minutes, flossing, and watching what she eats to prevent tooth decay. She makes sure she has no food left lingering, touching the gums.

McCann Technical offers a 43-credit dental assistant program, which includes 350 hours spent at a dental office for eight credits.

"From the first day until now, I see more confidence," said Hillcrest dental assistant Jane Gregory, who has helped mentor Messana.

"She comes in and knows what to do and how to set up a room, and how to go sterilizing, and that's just what I've seen in just a few days with her. What I want to see is confidence."

Messana had worked on the teeth of classmates and others close to her , but this is her first time working on the teeth of people she doesn't know. She is the only intern from McCann working at Hillcrest, which has hired five of its seven dental assistants from the vocational education program.

She started working on Thursday, Feb. 27, and she'll continue for three to four weeks. She saw the first of four tooth extractions on her first day. She's also seen first-hand neglected teeth that could have been spared if patients had come to the office a little sooner.

It's not always their fault, she said, because some families don't stress the importance of hygiene and care.

Michael Supranowicz, director of business development at Hillcrest Educational Center, said now that dental insurance has been restored to MassHealth plans, people should carefully examine their options. The coverage will apply to more than 800,000 low-income adults across Massachusetts, including 120,000 senior citizens and 180,000 people with disabilities.

"We work so hard to ensure people have health insurance, but we don't do the same thing [for dental]," he said.

As Messana is learning, there are consequences for not taking care of your teeth early.

"There's a lot of people who don't realize it until they are in the office," she said.