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April 2006
Volume 1, Number 4

Responding to Community Needs: The Century College Dental Institute

Mary Morales

KollerFaculty members in the dental programs at Century College (MN) have always emphasized to students that community involvement is part of their professional responsibility. As part of its efforts to provide access to dental care for those experiencing oral health disparities, the college established the Century College Dental Institute (CCDI). The CCDI is committed to making a positive difference in the oral health care system through service to underserved populations and the education of dental professionals. 

The concept for the initiative evolved from faculty involvement with the Minnesota Association for Community Dentistry. The association was examining ways to tangibly improve the present dental care delivery system in Minnesota. A pilot project was proposed by association member Apple Tree Dental that required collaboration with local stakeholders and the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). Century committed to expand its role as an Oral Healthcare Center as a part of this Oral Healthcare Solutions Pilot Project (OHSP). Unfortunately, the necessary federal waivers and statutory and regulatory changes did not take place, and the project was stalled.

Enthusiasm for the OHSP was strong at the college. The concept of having a community clinic at the college that would serve many of the patients seen in the student clinic was very appealing. It was decided that funding from community stakeholders would be sought. Grant proposals were written in the spring of 2005 and in the fall, the 3M and Delta Dental Foundations awarded the college a combined $130,000 for the institute.

The three primary goals of the CCDI have been (1) to establish a self-sustaining community clinic, (2) to function as a resource site and center of excellence for dental education, and (3) to provide additional service learning opportunities for students

Providing a Dental Home

The CCDI is committed to its vision. It strives to meet the following goals:

  • Create competent, confident, and caring oral health care providers who acknowledge their professional responsibility to society and their communities.
  • Provide a dental home to currently underserved populations.
  • Create service learning and volunteer opportunities that will enhance the experience of students, professionals, and patients.
  • Promote and provide evidence-based dentistry.
  • Offer continuing education programs fundamental to practicing dental professionals.
  • Be self-sustaining.
  • Be forward looking.
  • Be recognized and respected for its high-quality service and program excellence.

The largest component of the CCDI is the community clinic. This clinic will shift the burden of caring for low-income patients away from private dental practices and toward the community. It is viewed as an excellent use of community resources because the clinic is located in a public-owned facility that is part of an institution of higher learning, and because it will have professional clinicians and community partners who are all interested in improving access to care. 

Expanding Services

Preventive and restorative procedures and additional referral services will be offered by the community clinic. Clinicians providing services in the CCDI community clinic will be faculty members, volunteer assistants and hygienists, private dentists, and student volunteers. Restorative and expanded-functions training for hygienists and assistants will be provided through Century College’s noncredit Continuing Education/Customized Training Department, which helped to establish the CCDI. To be certified by the State of Minnesota in these expanded functions, hygienists and assistants must complete 64 hours of lab and clinical training.

This step toward providing additional dental services was driven by community needs. Currently, only diagnostic, preventive services, and nonsurgical periodontal therapies are available to patients in the dental hygiene student clinic. The CCDI community clinic will enable patients to receive dental care to which they currently do not have access. The clinic will begin operating in the summer of 2006. Reimbursement from public program assistance patients and a sliding fee scale for the uninsured will make the clinic self-sustaining. 

The CCDI will act as a resource site to provide the education and training in Restorative Expanded Functions (REF) needed by potential volunteers. In an effort to increase the number of auxiliaries qualified to provide restorative services for underserved populations, CCDI is offering its first REF course in May and June to faculty members and other allied dental health providers. Faculty members will then instruct additional clinicians from the community through the Continuing Education Division of the college.

Along with volunteer dentists, REF-trained clinicians will provide a wider range of dental services to patients in the CCDI community clinic. The services will include restorative and operative procedures and additional referral services as well as educational, preventive, and therapeutic dental hygiene services.

Recruitment of volunteer professionals began with the institute’s Give Kids a Smile Day in February of 2006. Faculty, students, staff, and 17 community dental professionals provided services to 167 children as part of the American Dental Association’s annual Give Kids a Smile program. Children and their families came from 36 different communities, some traveling significant distances from western Wisconsin.

Thirty-four percent of the children who were seen at Give Kids a Smile Day had never had a dental checkup. Fifty-seven of the children had emerging or urgent dental needs, including dental decay, abscesses, missing teeth, and teeth needing extraction. The services provided at the college were valued at more than $39,000.

The positive experience of several professionals during this event has led to an increased number of inquiries from dentists, hygienists, and assistants who wish to be involved with the CCDI. Dental professionals from around the area have been networking and discussing the CCDI and how it is working to improve access to dental care in the northeastern Twin Cities area.

Getting Stakeholders Involved

Community stakeholders like to be involved in the decision-making process, and the CCDI realizes that such involvement is important for the success of the institute. An advisory board is being established to gather input and advice for the ongoing operation of the CCDI. Community dental professionals have been invited to participate as members.   

The college continues to look for partners who can assist with dental clinic upgrades. Grant writing is an ongoing process. The dental faculty continues to devote a great amount of their volunteer time to seeking out community partners and assisting in the writing of grant proposals. This has been one of the most time-consuming aspects of the project. The upgrades to the clinic will be used by both the student clinic and the community clinic; therefore, additional community partners and grantors will be approached from the education as well as the community health and well being perspectives.

Those involved with the CCDI will work to strengthen the relationships with other organizations in the community. The local family counseling center that provided referrals for the Give Kids a Smile event is an excellent example of this community involvement. Many of the individuals who will be using the services of the community clinic may need assistance in locating additional social services. A resource list of agencies that can assist these individuals is being developed and will be very helpful as the CCDI seeks to provide additional referrals for their needs.

EngFrom its inception, the CCDI has been well supported by dental professionals and the general community. Many people are now calling to inquire when the community clinic will be open.

As an integral part of the college, the CCDI demonstrates that Century College is committed to building community through caring, education, and service. As needs become evident, the college continues to be actively involved in improving the lives of its community members.

Mary Morales is a dental hygiene instructor at Century College in White Bear Lake, Minnesota.

Cynthia Wilson, Editor