As state expands access to care, Maine dental school will train more students

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Ben Martin, a Fourth-year dental student, center, works Friday with patient Michael McAteer at the University of New England dental school in Portland. Second years Jack Edmiston, left, and Ethan Jordan watch the process. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

The University of New England dental school — the only one in northern New England — is growing, which could help meet Maine’s growing need for dentists.

The College of Dental Medicine is renovating its facilities in Portland to handle larger classes and will increase enrollment by eight students starting in fall 2023. The school, which currently has 64 students, will add six students to its traditional four-student program. year. , and two to a program that prepares foreign-trained dentists to seek licensure in the United States in just over two years.

The school has graduated 377 dentists since its inception nine years ago, and about a quarter of them have gone on to obtain a license to practice in Maine, according to school officials. But even so, state health officials say Maine needs more practicing dentists, especially in rural areas.

And demand for dental services is set to grow in Maine after the state expanded insurance coverage last week.

Since Friday, Maine has expanded the range of dental services covered by MaineCare, which is funded by state and federal governments and provides free or low-cost health insurance to low-income Mainers. The expansion plan, approved by the legislature last year, added preventative care and other basic dental services to items covered by insurance for about 200,000 Maine adults. It also comes with better reimbursement rates for dentists, a move the state hopes will encourage more dentists to set up shop in Maine.

The extended services will cost approximately $45 million and more than double the cost of dental insurance coverage for adult Mainers on MaineCare.

Many dental procedures for children are already covered by MaineCare, but adults were only covered for emergencies.

Adding more services to MaineCare’s adult coverage not only provides better health care for Mainers, the Mills administration said, but it also means more business for dentists. MaineCare’s dental coverage was largely limited to emergencies such as tooth extractions, and many of these were performed in emergency rooms rather than dentists’ offices.

Now procedures such as cleanings, fillings, root canals, dentures and other oral health services will be covered by insurance and the UNE expects this will help fuel more activities for more dentists in the state.

“There is definitely still a need (for more dentists) in Maine, and we recognize that need,” said Dr. Nici S. Kimmes, acting dean of the dental school.

The Maine Dental Association official said she hopes the cooperation of the state, UNE and dentists to expand MaineCare coverage will lead to positive work on other issues that might otherwise inhibit growth. dental offices in the state.

“We look forward to our continued collaboration to help address some of the logistical challenges that patients and providers may encounter in the weeks and months to come,” said Dr. Norma Desjardins, President of MDA. “Dental offices, like many health care practices and facilities across the state, continue to experience staffing shortages due to the pandemic.”

The acting dean of the University of New England dental school, Dr. Nicole Kimmes, in front of the Portland Oral Health Center. A new MaineCare dental benefit will pay for cleanings, fillings, root canals, dentures and other oral health services. Brianna Soukup/staff photographer

UNE is already trying to meet this need for dental care through a dozen dental clinics to which students are assigned in their fourth year. UNE also operates a clinic on its Portland campus where students treat patients under the supervision of licensed dentists.

The college said it treats about 100 patients a day at the Portland clinic and about a third are insured by MaineCare, so the range of treatments they can receive will increase under new insurance guidelines and will provide dental students with more experience in a wider range of procedures.

Kimmes said the Portland clinic and others are designed to serve areas and populations that lack dentists and that many of the patients treated there have MaineCare coverage, so changes in what is covered are important.

“We are part of the safety net and our students help improve it,” she said.

UNE officials said the clinics offer more MaineCare-covered patients a way to get care and reduce wait times and can provide a place to offer donated or discounted services for patients. costly procedures.

The school said dental students also travel to schools, nursing homes, housing authority clinics and mobile clinics throughout the state, as well as the dental hygiene clinic in the state. ‘A, to provide dental services to Mainers.


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