Dental school will help fill void in rural areas

Andy Skemp

Although a trip to the dentist may not be a highly anticipated event for many, it’s a form of health care that’s proving harder to come by in rural Minnesota — a problem that the University, in a combined effort with Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, hopes to address this coming fall.
Hibbing Community College, one of the 36 state colleges and universities that make up the MnSCU system, will be the site of a new full-service dental clinic where dental students, hygienists and dental assistants from the University and MnSCU will be working, said Michael Till, dean of the University’s School of Dentistry.
The clinic will be located in a new $22.5 million facility; the construction commenced May 21 with a groundbreaking ceremony.
Dill said University participation came, in part, as a response to a shortage of dentists in the Hibbing area. Concerned dentists from the area brought the issue to the attention of University officials.
“This is really the first program of its kind,” said Dan Rose, director of the outreach program at the dental school.
Rose added that students at the dental school have participated in traveling, “portable” clinics for many years, but the Hibbing clinic will be the first permanent facility offering students exposure to dentistry in small town and rural settings.
While many dentists in rural areas are retiring, dental students are not getting exposed to and learning how to manage practices in rural settings, said David Born, director of the Division of Health Ecology. Because of this, the number of dentists in areas like Hibbing is declining.
Rose said he hopes the new clinic will interest more dental students to pursue careers in the state’s rural regions because the population of dentists has become especially sparse in these areas in past year.
The clinic will be one of the optional locations for dental students to conduct their two to three weeks of experience in rural areas, a new requirement the dental school plans to implement, Born said.
The Hibbing dental center will also offer services at an exceptionally low cost. Born said this would be especially helpful to the thousands of Minnesotans who are covered by the state’s Minnesota Care Plan. Many of those covered by the plan have been turned away by dentists who have found they lose money for treating them, he added.
“We’re very proud of this project,” Till said. “The shortage of dentists in the rural areas, especially in the north, is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.”