Communities’ new dental clinic sees first patients

12 years ago

Communities’ new dental clinic

sees first patients


Staff photo/Scott Mitchell Johnson

    FIRST-TIME VISIT — Three-year-old Mason Abbott of Mars Hill went to his first dentist appointment March 30 at the new St. Apollonia Dental Clinic in Presque Isle. Located at 122 Academy St., the clinic’s mission is to serve the dental needs of children (ages 0-20) who do not currently have a dentist. Working with Abbott are, from left: Dr. Norma Desjardins, DMD, executive director of the clinic, and registered dental hygienist Margaret McPherson, who assisted Desjardins on opening day.

By Scott Mitchell Johnson

Staff Writer

    PRESQUE ISLE — The St. Apollonia Dental Clinic has begun working to put a smile on the face of every child in the area.
    Located at 122 Academy St. in Presque Isle, the non-profit organization saw its first patients March 30.
    “We’re open on an occasional, part-time basis at this time and it’s been going well. Patients have been great so far and parents are very appreciative,” said Dr. Norma Desjardins, DMD, executive director of the clinic. “We don’t have a regular one-day-a-week schedule yet. Our schedule will become more regular around mid-June when the new dentist — Keely O’Connell — arrives.
    “Keely came to Presque Isle in October and we were really impressed that she traveled here to visit the area before making a decision. She made the decision in early January, and we are so excited about having her come,” Desjardins said. “We’ve gotten to know her, and she has invited me to her hooding ceremony when she graduates later this spring from Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. She has to relocate and get her license through the state of Maine, so we don’t have a firm date when she’ll start, but we’re thinking it will be mid-June.”
    In the meantime, Desjardins and various dental hygienists have been seeing young patients from throughout Aroostook County.
    “The response from the communities has been great. The idea is that this will be the communities’ dental clinic,” said Desjardins. “We want all the patients and patrons to feel some ownership in this clinic. It belongs to the community and is for the community.”
    During last year’s Rotary Radio/TV Auction, the local club designated the dental clinic as its special project and set a fund-raising goal of $25,000. Through the generosity of the Aroostook County community about $38,000 was raised through the Rotary Auction.
    “In addition, we’ve received $50,000 from a private foundation which wishes to remain anonymous, a $10,000 grant from the Northeast Delta Dental Foundation, and a $5,000 grant from the Francis Hollis Brain Foundation,” said Desjardins. “We have also received support from other local community service organizations.”
    Academy Dental and Dr. Don Cassidy have also contributed used dental equipment in an effort to help keep costs down.
    Though open on a limited basis, the clinic has been busy welcoming new patients.
    “Initially when you start a practice you’re meeting the patients and doing a complete oral evaluation and taking radiographs when necessary in order to establish a diagnosis,” said Desjardins. “Then we can establish a treatment plan as needed and some patients will need operative dentistry like fillings while some will just need good, regular preventive care which is a basic checkup that usually consists of an exam and cleaning, and for children, a fluoride varnish.
    “A big part of every visit is education,” she said. “We’re always talking with the patient and parent/caregiver about how to prevent dental disease (cavities and decay) which has become the number-one childhood disease surpassing asthma. We know that it can be different, so we need to work hard to reach children at an early age, reach the parents and get the message out … cut down on juice, say ‘No’ to soda and things like that. They’re going to hear the same message over and over.”
    The clinic’s mission is to serve the dental needs of children (ages 0-20) who do not currently have a dentist.
    “We want to see the most dentally underserved children and their siblings. We feel that if we can give those kids the head start as far as their dental health and give them those preventative services through their childhood and their teen years that they’ll definitely be more likely to keep their dentition for their lifetime,” said Desjardins. “The clinic is going to run similar to a dental office where we provide services and will bill for those services. It’s not a free clinic; however, we’ll have a sliding fee scale discount available. We accept MaineCare patients, as well as patients with private or no insurance.
    “We have worked hard to keep operating costs down and we have been fortunate to have the generous support of local citizens as we continue our fund-raising efforts,” she said. “We strive to reach children whose families have only minimal resources.”
    Autumn Lizotte of Mars Hill brought her 3-year-old son Mason Abbott to his first dental appointment March 30.
    “Having a clinic like this means a lot to me as a parent and helps out quite a bit. Traveling down to Bangor or even farther south just to be able to get your kids’ teeth cleaned is even more expensive than having it done itself after a certain amount of time,” she said. “To be able to travel up from Mars Hill in order to get my child’s teeth cleaned is worth it. A lot of dentists don’t take MaineCare, but the clinic does, so that opens it up to a lot more children and gives the ability for these kids to have what they need to have done.
    “I think Mason did really good for his first time. I didn’t expect him to do this well. He sat through it, stayed happy and they did really well with him,” she said. “Teeth are extremely important, and even though they’re baby teeth right now, I want him to be able to keep them as long as possible. We’re working to make dental care a habit for him — get up, brush your teeth. Eat, brush your teeth. He loves brushing his teeth; he’ll ask me five times a day to brush them, so we’re well on the way to creating good habits for him.”
    When asked if he enjoyed his first dental visit, Mason exclaimed, “I wanna brush teeth.”
    Presently the clinic is set up with one operatory, but plans call for two additional stations.
    “Each operatory will consist of a dental chair, the delivery unit, cabinetry … anything that’s necessary to be able to perform dentistry, whether its hygiene services or services by the dentist,” said Desjardins. “We’d love to be able to afford to put in the second and third operatory right now, but I’m in the middle of some big grant applications, so hopefully we’ll be able to raise more funds to buy more equipment. We’d rather start small and grow because it’s all about giving great service.”
    Desjardins said an open house will likely be held in June after O’Connell arrives.
    For more information on the clinic, call 554-5045 or e-mail