It’s a Zoo Out There for Dental Hygiene Students

UMKC School of Dentistry offers clinical experience at the Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium
A dental hygiene student cleans the teeth of a swamp monkey that is laying on an exam table. Another student and two veterinary technicians watch her work.

Macila Arnold knew it was an unusual day for her as a UMKC dental hygiene student. First off, the day started at the Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium.

“We came in to work on some swamp monkeys,” Arnold said.


“We got to watch the doctors do their annual visits, do the physical with swamp monkeys and then we got to scale and clean their teeth, and polish them up, just like we would with our human patients.”

A dental hygiene student works on a swamp monkey's teeth

Arnold is taking advantage of an opportunity with the UMKC School of Dentistry. Through a partnership with the Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium, the dental hygiene program offers students the Zoo Practicum.

Two dental hygiene students look at something in the foreground of the photo together

Each spring semester, senior dental hygiene students like Arnold, who was joined by her classmate Sidney Dennis, spend time cleaning the teeth of all kinds of zoo animals.

“The experience has been very unique. I know it’s something that I’m never going to forget,” Dennis said.

The collaborative partnership between the School of Dentistry and the Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium started in 1994. Dr. Wm Kirk Suedmeyer, the Zoo’s director of animal health and conservation research, sees great value in the expertise the students provide.

The Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium veterinarian extracts the tooth of a swamp monkey as two dental hygiene students look on

“It really helps, and they do a good job providing good dental hygiene for our animals,” Suedmeyer said.

Two dental hygiene students walk through the UMKC dental clinic wearing blue scrubs

The UMKC School of Dentistry provides students with a wide variety of clinical experiences across the Kansas City metropolitan area and beyond.

“We have different rotations here at the School of Dentistry: We go out to local elementary schools to give fluoride and sealants and do all kinds of screenings with them,” Dennis said. “There’s a lot of real-world opportunities at the School of Dentistry.”

Originally from Springfield, Missouri, Dennis appreciates how much of Kansas City she’s seen through her rotations.

“Being able to get involved in the community through hygiene has been just so much fun,” she said. “I’ve loved my experience here in Kansas City.”

All that time in the community helped Arnold find her niche of public health within the dental field.

A dental hygiene student smiles at the Kansas City Zoo and Aquarium veterinarian

"Kansas City has definitely been our classroom by giving us the opportunity to go outside the School of Dentistry and just our patients. We get to go out and do the rotations where we get to go out and work with a diverse population." — Macila Arnold (B.S.D.H. '23)

Two dental hygiene students clean a person's teeth in the UMKC dental clinic

“I feel like having that exposure and getting to work in the Kansas City area has helped me find my own passion within dental hygiene.”

Macila Arnold stands in front of a large, bright pink KC sign smiling in a cap and gown 

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