Teens take their turn at UNE dental camp in Portland

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PORTLAND — In the dental hygiene clinic on the University of New England campus, Chelsea Angevine bore down on a set of troubled teeth with serious, but uncertain, determination Monday morning, drilling and filling a “cavity” for the first time.

When she finished the procedure, Angevine, of Norway, stepped back and pulled off her surgical mask, smiling to reveal a full set of pastel-colored braces.

The thought of getting a filling from a 14-year-old would be enough to make some scream, but Angevine’s patient simulator didn’t seem to mind.

And for UNE dental hygiene professor Dr. Lionel Vachon, who guided Angevine and other high school students through the process at the school’s three-day Dental Careers Exploration Camp this week, the idea was positively encouraging.

“It’s wonderful. They’re very enthusiastic,” Vachon said said of the 20 students who participated in this year’s camp.

The camp, which the school first ran three years ago, provides students interested in a career in the field a chance to learn more about the various roles that staff in a dental office fill, from dental assistant to hygienist to oral surgeon.

On Monday, students spent much of the day rotating through hands-on clinical activities, including the drilling and filling station.

Most of the students said they are already considering jobs in dentistry and the camp offered an early chance for them to try their hand at the trade.

“The closer the simulation, the less steep the learning curve,” Vachon said.

While Angevine ran the drill and molded composite filling into the resulting hole in the patient simulator’s teeth, former Scarborough resident Joe Brausch, 17, rinsed and dried the simulator’s mouth with the familiar dentist’s spray and vacuum tools. Braush now lives in Colorado and came back for the camp in between practicing for his pilot’s license in North Carolina.

At another station, Kristyna DiBona, 16, of Pelham, N.H., practiced sewing sutures on a chicken breast. The meat was as a stand-in for real human gums, and like the simulator, did not protest as it was sliced, stabbed, and sewn up.

Performing the maneuvers on a real person would be different, DiBona said, although she still thought she could do it.

“It would probably be more bloody,” she said. “With an actual person it would probably be more nerves, because I wouldn’t want to hurt them.”

“It’s actually really fun,” she added. “It’s more fun than I thought it would be.”

Fun aside, recruiting young people to the dental health field is important because Maine is always in need of more dentists, said Cindy Sullivan, director of the Maine Dental Association. The state has just 675 licensed dentists – one for every 2,000 or so people – and many will be retiring soon, she said.

Dental issues are a leading cause of emergency room visits in Maine, and the lack of preventive care, especially in some of the more sparsely populated parts of the state, is linked to other health issues like heart disease, Sullivan said.

UNE, which will open a school to train dentists next year alongside the existing dental hygiene program, will focus its recruiting on rural areas of northern New England in hopes that students will return to those under-served areas as fully trained professionals, program Director Jim Koelbl said. The camp is in some ways part of that outreach effort.

“Obviously it’s geared toward opening their eyes to a career they may not have considered before,” he said.

“Hopefully, (the students) can discover it’s for them,” Vachon said Monday. “And if it’s not, they can discover that, too.”

Andrew Cullen can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Foolow him on Twitter: @ACullenFore.

Sidebar Elements

Dr. Lionel Vachon, left, a dentist and professor in the University of New England program for dental hygienists, watches Erin Brown, 16, of Kennebunk, during an exercise simulating drilling teeth and filling cavities Monday at the school’s three-day summer camp for teens exploring dentristy. The exercise was “really fun,” Brown said.

Kristyna DiBona, 16, right, of Pelham, N.H., practices sewing sutures on a chicken breast with the help of dentist Dr. Jeffrey Doss at the University of New England’s three-day camp for teens exploring dentristy on Monday. The chicken breast is meant to simulate human gum tissue, but the real thing “would probably be more bloody,” DiBona said.

Planning Board gets dental school proposal

PORTLAND — The University of New England’s proposed Patient Care Center was set to go before the Planning Board on Tuesday to determine whether the college has sufficiently answered city questions about parking, storm water management, and the campus master plan.

The Patient Care Center is proposed for the intersection of College Street and Stevens Avenue, and would house the university’s new College of Dental Medicine, which is set to accept its first students next year.

The $14.5 million, two-story building would require the removal of three smaller buildings, which are used as office space and graduate student rental housing.

The project is funded by a $3.5 million state bond that Maine voters approved in 2010, a $2.3 million donation from Northeast Delta Dental, and other private donations. UNE officials said the center will create 327 jobs during and after construction, and a staff of 40 faculty and other employees will serve as many as 15,000 patient visits a year.

If the project is approved, the university plans to break ground as early as July, and to open the building a year before the dental medicine program’s first class of students arrives in September.

Andrew Cullen