PORTLAND, Maine — Audra Boynton is getting ready to click “send” on her online application to the University of New England’s College of Dental Medicine.
She has fine-tuned her submission multiple times, after waiting years for the first dental school in northern New England to finally begin accepting students.
“There are a lot of people like me who have been waiting for this,” Boynton said Thursday, after a ceremony at the university’s Portland campus celebrating the beginning of construction on a new $14.5 million health clinic.
Boynton, of Old Orchard Beach, received a bachelor’s degree in dental hygiene from UNE in 2008. Now she hopes to become a dentist as part of the new school’s inaugural class of 46 students who will begin taking classes in the fall of 2013.
“I have roots here,” Boynton said. “For me to move to Boston right now would be major upheaval in my life. I don’t plan on living in Boston, I plan on living here.”
Training the next generation of Maine dentists, and keeping them here, is a major goal of the four-year dental school. Funded with a $3.5 million state bond and a $2.3 million donation by Northeast Delta Dental, the school is expected to improve access to dental care in the state, especially in rural areas.
Maine needs about 200 new dentists in the next decade to keep pace with today’s already stretched services, as 40 percent of the state’s practicing dentists are nearing retirement, according to the Pew Children’s Dental Campaign.
“This new school recognizes and fills a real educational need that will yield better access to quality dental care in Maine for years to come,” Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew said at Thursday’s event.
The dental school received initial accreditation earlier this month.
The college will include a renovated Goddard Hall, which will house administrative offices, and the new Patient Care Center, a 38,000-square-foot clinic at the corner of Stevens Avenue and College Street where third-year students will work on patients under the tutelage of dentist faculty members.
The college expects to begin seeing patients at the center in early 2014, with between 12,000 and 15,000 patients expected annually within several years.
Administrators envision the state-of-the-art clinic as a foundation for better coordinated medical treatment, where primary and dental care teams will serve all of patients’ basic health needs.
“That’s what this building is about,” said James Koelbl , the founding dean of the College of Dental Medicine. “It’s about the sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers and children who will come here for their health care, who will call this building their medical home.”
The college and the new clinic will open as planned next fall, despite Gov. Paul LePage’s decision in May not to issue any voter-approved bonds until lawmakers control state spending.
“UNE is exploring alternative sources of financing, including reallocation of resources, but we are confident funds will be available to enable us to stay on schedule and complete this important project by 2013,” UNE Vice President for Fiscal Affairs Nicole Trufant said in a press release.