NACC Dental Clinic to open in May

In partnership with the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry, the Native American Community Clinic (NACC) in Minneapolis will add a dental practice to its suite of medical and mental health services starting May 6. 

The Native American Community Clinic (which has served the Native community in the Phillips neighborhood since 2003) offers affordable care to the mainly low-income people who come through its doors. The new dental clinic, located in an expanded space adjacent to the clinic on Franklin Avenue, will give a much needed service to the neighborhood and community, will benefitting dental students, who, under the supervision of faculty, will receive valuable real-world experience.

Dr. Lydia Caros, the executive director for NACC, said that the clinic provides a safe haven for the nearby Native population, which, as a group, often feels estranged from more mainstream facilities which have different values. Eighty-five percent of NACC's patients are Native American, according to Caros.        

"When we built this clinic," Caros said. "A lot of people said to me that they felt like they didn't have a place that was really theirs." 

The new dental clinic will have a UofMN School of Dentistry faculty dentist on-site daily plus four senior dental students and two dental hygiene students, in addition to a small support staff. In the future, the UofMN School of Dentistry will bring in dental therapy students from its new dental therapy program which began holding classes last fall. A dental therapist (similar to that of a physician's assistant) can  provide more services than dental hygienists, but can't do everything a dentist can. 

Like NACC's medical clinic - which has two family practice doctors, two pediatricians, and two nurse practitioners - the dental clinic will focus on prevention and outreach. Currently the primary care clinic has a community health area where it leads classes on topics such as living in balance, making health goals. It also hosts 'diabetes awareness' breakfasts. A counseling center, which takes an holistic approach to mental and psychological issues, is also on-site. Outside of its regular services, the clinic offers a walking group, cooking classes and child screening for diabetes.

NACC began dreaming about a dental clinic when federal stimulus money was made available for construction projects. It has received $373,000 through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which enabled the project to get underway.   

Caros said the clinic's federal funders from the Bureau of Primary Health Care, which funds community clinics across the country, suggested that the organization take advantage of the opportunity.  "We had never considered [a dental clinic] before," Caros said, "Because we didn't have the space."

Caros estimates the clinic will need a total of $700,000 to be able to purchase supplies and equipment, and to staff the clinic. Though they have not raised all of the funds yet, they still plan on opening their doors in May.  Despite the costs of starting a dental clinic, Caros said the organization is committed to providing sliding scale fees for those without insurance. 

Dr. Paul Schulz, the outreach director for the UofMN School of Dentistry, said the school was enthusiastic when Caros approached him about undertaking such a project, because of the learning opportunities it presented for dental students. 

Shulz said the community benefits because the school can supply specialty dentists, meaning that the clinic will be a one-stop shop for services such as oral surgery and dentures, which aren't widely available.

Shulz said, "We don't want people to think if they are being treated by students, they are not going to get extremely quality care." He said that unlike some training clinics, the NACC dental clinic will have faculty dentists on staff, rather than adjunct faculty that would only work at the clinic. "This will be the same faculty that teach the students," he said. 

Schulz said that advantages for the students working at the clinic is that they will be exposed to a diverse group in South Minneapolis, which will hopefully open their minds to different practice environments.  Plus, "they'll gain further appreciation and comfort level working with kids," Schulz said. He hopes that the experience will encourage them to work in an urban environment in the future. 

Though there are already two other dental clinics not very far from NACC, run by the Community University Health Care Clinic and the Indian Health Board, Shulz said the need in South Minneapolis for affordable dental care "is constant and growing." Although its focus will be on the Native American Community, it will be open to everyone.

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