ROCKPORT, Maine — The dentists who came this weekend to the Samoset Resort for the annual Maine Dental Association convention enjoyed the chance to brush up on new developments in their industry and catch up with old friends.
That’s an emphasis on “old,” many dentists said ruefully.
“We’re all old,” said Dr. William Cadoo of Ellsworth, who said that he would like to find a younger dentist who could practice in his office.
“I was planning for retirement until two years ago, when the stock market tanked,” Cadoo said. “What I’m looking for is somebody who could be my dentist — somebody my patients would be happy with, too.”
Cadoo is far from the only dentist in the state who is concerned about the future. Maine has just one dentist per 3,400 residents, whereas the U.S. average is one per 1,700. This can lead to practices that aren’t accepting new patients, or practices with months of wait times to get an appointment. Additionally, Maine Dental Asso-ciation members say, about 20 percent of dentists here will be ready for retirement within the next five years.
That’s why dentists like Cadoo were especially eager to speak with 40 young people who were special guests at the convention. They are dental students at places such as the University of California at San Francisco, Tufts, Boston University and Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and they just might be the future of dentistry in Maine, according to the Maine Dental Association officials who invited them.
Gov. John Baldacci even wrote the students a letter of welcome.
“We do not have enough dentists here,” he wrote. “So I ask, as you complete your education, to consider Maine as a career destination.”
It sounds good to Todd Walker. The Tufts University dental student attended last year’s pilot student program at the MDA convention. He said that he and his wife fell in love with Maine, and he’d like to settle here after his 2010 graduation. Older dentists clustered around him, pressing business cards into his hands and offering their help.
“That’s what brought us here,” Walker said. “The feeling of interacting with people.”
“Maine needs dentists, and it’s good that the [association] puts this together,” said Dr. James Sevey of Creative Dental Solutions in Bangor.
Sevey said that he is the only dentist at his busy practice, and he is looking for an associate because he is turning away as many as six patients a day.
“You never know what can happen,” Sevey said. “If you were living in Boston, you could probably get someone pretty quickly. But in Maine, it could take a couple of years to find the right person.”
Ana Mattos, a student from Boston University who is originally from Brazil, said that after her trip to Maine for the convention, she is considering practicing here when she graduates. Although that is three years away and anything could happen, she liked what she saw of the state — and its dentists.
“It’s more welcoming,” she said. “It’s less aggressive than being in Boston and the bigger cities.”
While that could apply to the Maine lifestyle in general, many of the students said that competition for dental patients can be cutthroat in other places. Maine’s obvious need for dentists is a draw that organizers highlighted along with the state’s proximity to nature and cultural attractions such as Bangor’s American Folk Festival.
Shauna Woody, 29, is a student at the University of California at San Francisco who is originally from West Virginia. As she decides where to settle after graduation, she’s looking for a place to raise a family.
“Everybody’s very friendly and welcoming,” she said. “I have a good impression of Maine.”