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Graduate dental fellow Maureen Ohland and senior dental hygiene student Shannon Bradley.

Graduate dental fellow Maureen Ohland (left) and dental hygiene student Shannon Bradley (right) share a smile with a happy patient in Olivia, Minnesota.

U dental students serve rural Minnesota

By Terri Smith

From M, summer 2005

If demand for service is a measure of success, the Hibbing Community College Dental Clinic has been a winner since the day it opened in 2002. Located on the campus of Hibbing Community College (HCC), the state-of-the-art clinic is the first cooperative educational initiative between the School of Dentistry and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system.

The clinic was established, in part, to address the pent-up demand for dental care in the Hibbing area, a problem prevalent in rural areas of the state. The clinic had 770 patients the first six weeks it was open and averages 5,250 patient visits a year. "We performed 8,670 separate dental procedures last fiscal year for our patients," says the clinic's director, Jerry Pedersen. Michael Till, professor in the Department of Preventive Sciences, Division of Pediatric Dentistry, was dean when dentists in the northeast part of the state approached the School of Dentistry. "Local dentists saw that many public assistance patients in the area were going without care," says Till. "They were also concerned about the aging dentist community and about who would replace retiring practitioners." The clinic was created as a cooperative effort, with local dentists and the School of Dentistry coming together with HCC, which was about to build a new clinic for its dental assisting program. With funding from the legislature, HCC, and the University, plans were expanded to create a comprehensive care clinic.

"This form of community-based experiential education, which benefits the community and provides educational experience for the next generation of health professionals, is what the AHC mission is all about," says Cerra.

Now, four dental students work at the Hibbing clinic at all times, year-round. (Every dental student is required to do a minimum of three weeks of community service as a condition of graduation.) They serve in two-week rotations and live in Hibbing campus apartments that the School of Dentistry reserves for them.

Pedersen says students at the Hibbing clinic receive an experience similar to that of private practice, complete with computer training and patient management experience. That includes working with students from the HCC dental assisting program, just as they would work with assistants in private practice. Dental students also interact with area dentists, who introduce them to the community and life in rural practice, increasing the likelihood they'll consider locating in greater Minnesota after graduation.

"This form of community-based experiential education, which benefits the community and provides educational experience for the next generation of health professionals, is what the AHC mission is all about," says Frank Cerra, senior vice president for Health Sciences,

Dental care for migrant workers

Migrant workers play a major role in Minnesota's farm economy. Each year, 20,000 to 35,000 agricultural workers arrive with their families to work in Minnesota farm fields and food processing plants, and often return to the same farms and companies year after year. Because they move frequently, work long days, and have scant money for health care, dental care is a luxury few can afford.

That's why, in 1996, the School of Dentistry created an innovative program called Migradent, which takes dental services to the children of Minnesota's seasonal workers. Last summer, for example, 13 School of Dentistry students, faculty, and staff transported dental chairs, materials, and equipment 90 miles west of the Twin Cities to Olivia, Minnesota, where they converted a home economics classroom into a four-unit dental office. For two and a half days, dental residents and dental hygiene students treated 160 children aged three to six.

In addition to providing pediatric primary care, the annual program provides important educational opportunities for students. "These children have extensive oral health care needs that are different from those of patients seen in our Twin Cities campus clinics," says Patrick Lloyd, dean of the dental school. "Our students gain valuable experience in diagnosis, treatment planning, patient management, and emergency care."

At the same time, access to dental services helps make a real difference in the health of children.