BANGOR, Maine — Hopeful of attracting new, young dentists to the northern part of the state, Penobscot Community Health Center on Union Street has won professional approval and federal funding to establish a general practice dental residency program.
That means newly minted dental school graduates, who must serve 12 months of on-the-job training before they can practice independently, will come to Bangor for a year to work with the existing dental staff and their clients at the public health clinic, according to the Rev. Bob Carlson, president of the PCHC board.
“We’ll have two residents this year, four next year and six the year after that,” Carlson said earlier this week. The primary goal is to provide more dental care to more patients in the Bangor area, he said, including at a new dental program that will open this spring at the PCHC clinic in the refurbished Helen Hunt School in Old Town.
But Carlson said there is an ulterior motive.
“If these graduates come and they like the area, maybe they’re going to stay,” he said.
In Maine, where the number of residents per practicing dentist is substantially higher than the national average, that is an important goal, said Frances Miliano, executive director of the Maine Dental Association. With the majority of Maine dentists approaching retirement age, and a real scarcity of dental care in the most rural ar-eas of the state, Miliano said the dental association is eager to attract young dentists.
Efforts such as wooing dental school seniors to visit Maine with visions of boiled lobsters and ocean views, awarding dental school scholarships to Maine students, and urging high school guidance counselors to steer promising students toward a career in dentistry are slowly paying off, she said.
But many recent graduates are weighed down with college debt, Miliano said, and must find high-paying jobs to support themselves and their families — a challenge in Maine’s slender economy.
Residency programs are a good way to bring young dentists to Maine and give them time to learn its charms, Miliano said.
“Sometimes it takes the younger ones awhile to recognize the quality of life here,” she said. “Someone who went to school in Boston might not want to go up to Jackman to practice.”
The only other dental residency program in Maine is at the Togus VA Medical Center near Augusta. Dr. David Zimmerman, chief of dental services at Togus, said the 12-month program is in its fourth year and has graduated three young dentists. Two of the three have settled in Maine to practice, he said.
Dental residents have come to Togus from Tufts, the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health, and Boston University.
The residency program at PCHC is funded with a three-year, $700,000 grant from the federal Department of Health and Human Services and has been accredited by the American Dental Association. The program is supported by St. Joseph Hospital and Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where dental residents will see patients in the emergency department and perform dental procedures requiring anesthesia.
Carlson said the first two students will be selected soon and will begin their residencies in July.
PCHC will hold a press conference today featuring U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who helped secure funding for the project.