LAKEWOOD RANCH — Dental offices have been popping up across the East County in recent years, but that hasn’t been the case across the Panhandle or some interior portions of the state.
And with a graying workforce — 65% of the dental force is over age 45 — the amount of underserved populations for dental health is expected to increase.
But Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine hopes to help reverse that trend with its new School of Dental Medicine, which is slated to open in July, with the first class scheduled to begin taking classes in the fall.
“I think it’s great that LECOM, the provost and the board of trustees have opted to do something,” LECOM School of Dental Medicine Dean Dr. Robert Hirsch said. “It’s a whole new curriculum, but we’ll be meeting needs of general population. It’s a great opportunity that they’ve provided, and we’ll be taking care of a lot of patients whose needs will be met oral-health wise.”
LECOM administrators and the board of trustees began investigating the possibility of opening a dental school about two-and-one-half years ago. After recognizing the addition of a dental program not only would enhance the school’s medical and pharmaceutical programs but also meet both the educational and health-care needs of Florida residents, LECOM began the accreditation process.
Hirsch was responsible for writing the documents and the curriculum, as part of the initial accreditation process.
About a year ago, LECOM had a site visit at its Bradenton campus and received initial accreditation from the American Dental Association Commission on Dental Accreditation. At that time, the school announced it was going to be building a dental school on its Bradenton campus.
LECOM broke ground on its $52 million, 100,000-square-foot, two-story facility in June. The school spans 36 acres along Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and 44th Avenue E. and sits just north of LECOM’s Bradenton campus.
LECOM began accepting applications for its School of Dental Medicine over the summer and already has received nearly 2,200 applications. Students must have a bachelor’s degree before they can apply for admission.
Of those applications, 100 will be selected for enrollment in the four-year dental program’s first class.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Hirsch said. “There’s so much enthusiasm about what we want to do, and the students are (excited) about going out to serve underserved areas.”
During the first year, dental students will have some of the same problem-based learning classes as medical students with the goal of creating more integration among the various health care professions.
“There will be a lot of interaction, and our hope is that they’ll have a better appreciation and ability to talk to each other once they graduate,” Hirsch said. “This just helps that. We’re the only school in the country that’s doing that.”
LECOM also has plans to open a patient clinic in its new building, so medical and pharmaceutical students can be involved in rotations.
In addition to coursework, dental students also will begin seeing patients for procedures, such as full dentures, in January of their first year.
“The goal is for students to have as many clinical opportunities and learning hours after four years that a student in a regular school would have after four years plus a year of residency.”
The LECOM School of Dental Medicine will have its own 115-chair clinic, where students will be able to see patients. The clinic will be set up to feel like a private practice. The students will be divided into pods of 10, with a faculty member and a receptionist assigned to each pod.
As a result, patients will be able to call and schedule appointments with a specific receptionist. And as students graduate, patients still will keep coming to the same receptionist.
“This way the patients won’t get lost in the shuffle, and it feels more like a practice instead of a big clinic,” Hirsch said.
The LECOM School of Dental Medicine’s clinic will accept patients ranging from young children to geriatric patients with a wide variety of dental needs. However, because it’s a teaching environment, patients will need to apply to be a part of the program to ensure their needs fit into the school’s curriculum and the parameters set by the school’s faculty. The majority of the patients students will see will be those on medical assistance or low or fixed incomes.
Students will spend their fourth year working at a LECOM-owned outreach clinic in an underserved area. Those areas are designated by the government based on the number of people and dentists. LECOM will have one clinic in Erie, Pa., and another location in Florida, which has yet to be announced. The goal is to encourage students to go out and serve in underprivileged communities once they graduate.
“Many areas have underserved populations for dental health,” Hirsch said. “The challenge is how do we change that? Our (primary) goal is that our graduates will go to undeserved areas to practice.
“Some schools do the outreach, but the maximum time they spend in the fourth year is maybe 20 weeks in an outreach location; our students will spend 48,” Hirsch said. “Other students are going to state or federally funded clinics, but our students will be going to clinics that we own and operate, and where we can set the standard in what we are teaching our students.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].
By The Numbers
36 — The number of acres on which the LECOM School of Dental Medicine sits.
52 — The cost in millions of dollars of the project.
65 — The percentage of dentists who are over the age of 45.
100 — The number of students who will be accepted into each dental class.
115 — The number of chairs that will be in the LECOM School of Dental Medicine’s clinic.
2,200 — The number of applications the LECOM School of Dental Medicine already has received.
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