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St. Apollonia Dental Clinic hosts free day of care

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — St. Apollonia Dental Clinic, the nonprofit children’s dental clinic in Presque Isle, partnered with the Maine Dental Association to bring free dental care to people of all ages Friday, Nov. 2.

St. Apollonia was participating for the first time in the Maine Dental Association’s 10th annual Dentists Who Care for ME initiative. The association partners with dental clinics around the state to offer to people who lack dental insurance dental cleanings, fillings, or extraction referrals to specialists.

“It’s the first time ever this far north. The dental association is trying to grow this service,” said St. Apollonia founder Dr. Norma Desjardins. “We wanted to do it for the first time in the area and see what kind of response we get.”

Desjardins said several adults came in by mid-afternoon for the free dental care from area dental providers including registered dental hygienist Nancy Watson and Dr. David Levasseur of Pines Dental in Caribou.

“We’re getting a sense of the need for this service,” said Desjardins, who founded St. Apollonia as a clinic to serve youths up to ages 21 regardless of their parents’ insurance or ability to pay.

Desjardins said the clinic will aim to participate in the event again with the Maine Dental Association and plan for more outreach to bring in more underserved adults.

“We’re going to have to collaborate with other nonprofits,” he said. “We might reach out to churches to see if they know of parishioners who might be struggling, primary care doctors, social workers and family service workers. We have a good relationship with ACAP.”

While access to dental care is still a major challenge in rural Maine, Desjardins said that Aroostook County is making inroads in meeting the needs for both youths and adults.

The area’s federally qualified health clinic networks, including Pines Health, Katahdin Valley Health Center and Fish River Rural Health all are offering dental services, with income-based, sliding fee payments. The goal is to bring people preventive dental care that addresses oral health issues before they grow into major problems, Desjardins said.

“In the dental world, we’re trying to eliminate as much as we can the need for ER visits, because most of the time there aren’t dental people in the ER. They can provide antibiotics, but then they still have to make a referral from the ER to a dental office of an oral surgeon,” Desjardins said.

“I think that St. Apollonia has made a difference over the last five or six years in terms of the need that kids have. I hope that data would show that dental ER visits for kids have been reduced.”

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