Dental school requests funding to expand program

by Melanie Evans

The University’s School of Dentistry is banking on some extra cash from the state Legislature to establish a full-time clinic and satellite school in northern Minnesota.
If the dental legislative request — which is separate from the University’s capital request — is approved, the dental school will expand its services. The expanded program would join with Hibbing Community College’s dental assistance program to form a full-time clinic to alleviate a chronic demand for care providers in the region.
The University program would support local dentists and train students in a rural community, said Dr. Michael Till, dean of the dental school.
Outstate areas like Hibbing face a crunch on dental services because of occasional shortages or the sporadic distribution of dentists, Till said.
The Hibbing satellite program would provide a permanent solution to geographic and economic barriers faced by some residents in rural northern Minnesota, said David O. Born, director of both the project and the health ecology division of the dentistry school.
The program’s goal is to reach out to under-served communities and to prepare students to work in a rural community, Born said.
As the only dental program in the string of states between Milwaukee and the Pacific Northwest, University graduates form the backbone of practicing dentists in North and South Dakota, as well as Minnesota, Till said.
North Dakota ranks 47th and South Dakota 45th among states for population density. Minnesota ranks 20th. Providing practitioners for these areas has been an ongoing challenge for the University’s dental community.
Till estimates the cost for faculty, equipment and expanded facilities in Hibbing to run from $300,000 to $400,000.
The program will not happen without support from the state Legislature, Till said. He predicts the facility will be self-supporting in four to five years. The initial support from the Legislature is “an investment in quality,” he said.
Program proponents are hoping it will also be an investment in graduate student retention as well.
Hopefully, the experience and professional connections students make during their rotation will be enough to draw them back after graduation, he said.
It worked for Dr. Kimberly Harms.
Harms is former vice president for the Minnesota Dental Association and currently a dentist in Farmington, Minn. During college, Harms participated in a similar program sponsored by the National Health Service Corps.
The corps paid for Harms’ dental education in return for a three-year commitment following graduation.
Her clinical experience in a public health facility during college is the reason she still dedicates one day a week to a center in Farmington, she said.
“Students will get a valuable experience,” she said. “The more experience they can get the better.”