Do you favor a $5,000,000 bond issue to be awarded on a competitive basis to increase access to dental care in Maine, $3,500,000 to be used for a community-based teaching dental clinic affiliated with or operated by a college of dental medicine to be matched by $3,500,000 in other funds, and $1,500,000 to be used to create or upgrade community-based health and dental care clinics across the state to increase their capacity as teaching and dental clinics?
Maine has a shortage of dentists that will get worse in the next decade. At the same time, rising costs and decreased insurance coverage make dental care increasingly unaffordable to many. Innovative solutions will need to be found to address these problems. Backers of Question 2, a $5 million bond for a dental school and dental clinics, have not made a persuasive case that spending this money is the best answer. This bond should be rejected by voters Nov. 2.
Question 2 asks the state to borrow $5 million, $3.5 million of which will go to a university or college to help build a dental school, which Maine currently does not have. Although the money would be available to the school with the best proposal, it is expected to go to the University of New England, home to the state’s only medical school.
The remainder of the bond money — $1.5 million — would go toward opening or expanding low-cost dental clinics.
Although UNE, which has campuses in Biddeford and Portland, has trained many of the state’s doctors, there are other innovative ways to encourage dentists to locate here. The Maine Dental Association, for example, recently brought 53 dental students to Rockport for its annual meeting. Funding for the trip was provided by Northeast Delta Dental and the Maine Office of Rural Health and Primary Care. Students said Maine was the only state actively recruiting them.
Imagine what such an effort could yield with just a fraction of $5 million.
Maine already offers dentists a partial loan repayment through the Finance Authority of Maine, and a pilot program offers new dentists income tax credits. Refining these programs — and ensuring they encourage dentists to work in underserved areas — is a quicker, more direct way to address Maine’s dentist shortage than building a dental school in southern Maine.
Earlier this month, Maine received more than $5 million from the federal Department of Health and Human Services to expand health clinics in Bangor, Houlton and Millinocket. The improvements will include dental services.
It isn’t necessary for the state to borrow money to duplicate work that is already being done.
Question 2 does not address a major reason too many people do without dental care — they can’t afford it. Even the sliding fees charged by community health clinics are too high for many, forcing people into emergency rooms seeking treatment for dental problems and causing children to forgo routine dental care.
A bond for a new dental school is the wrong solution to a real problem.