DR. CHRIS WNEK and his assistant work with a patient at the Oasis free dental clinic.

DR. CHRIS WNEK and his assistant work with a patient at the Oasis free dental clinic.

BRUNSWICK

After nine years in Bath, the Oasis free dental clinic will be moving to a new facility in Brunswick.

Twice a month, uninsured adults between 18-64 living at or below 175 percent of the federal poverty level can get free dental care at the Jesse Albert Memorial Dental Center, a Catholic Charities of Maine space.

“That’s been wonderful,” said Andree Appel, Oasis executive director, but added that space there has been “very limiting.”

Two dentists and a hygienist serve nine patients per clinic.

There hasn’t been any room for expansion, and volunteers are asked to do a lot under less than ideal conditions, said Appel.

“They’re seeing some fairly severe problems,” said Appel.

“Many times you’re extracting a tooth at 8:30 at night,” said Rick Elsaesser, a dentist who serves on Oasis’s board. “That’s hard on patients and hard on providers.”

The clinic serves those in Bath, Brunswick,

Freeport, Harpswell and the islands, and all of Sagadahoc County except Richmond.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, Oasis’s medical clinic is expecting to see its patient pool shrink, and so Appel said it was time to dedicate resources to the dental clinic.

In the five years since the signing of the Affordable Care Act, 16.4 million uninsured Americans have gained health coverage.

That coverage doesn’t cover teeth, however. Patients at the clinic are described as “the working poor,” said Elsaesser.

“They’re barely getting along, and the last thing they spend money on is dental care. In the last nine years, we’ve been overwhelmed. We’re not even close to reaching out to the people who need urgent care,” he said.

The cost of dental care is overwhelming, said Appel, adding: “People are barely getting by on minimum wage jobs, and there aren’t that many places that will make payment arrangements.”

In 2013, Oasis personnel performed 100 tooth extractions, 100 filings, but only 45 cleanings, said Elsaesser.

“Dental insurance is not readily available and it’s expensive. It’s an easy thing to defer, if you have a cavity or a low-grade toothache, until it becomes a crisis. So you go to the ER because that’s your only option,” Elsaesser said.

There were more than 500 emergency room visits in 2013 between Parkview Adventist Medical Center and Mid Coast Hospital for patients seeking emergency dental care, said Elsaesser. In the emergency room, patients will get a painkiller and antibiotic, but little else.

“Our emergency rooms are swamped with dental needs,” said Elsaesser. “It’s an overwhelming need, simply keeping adults out of the ER.”

While cleaning and preventive care services may be offered at the new space, the clinic will continue to primarily be an urgent care facility.

“We can’t handle any more,” said Elsaesser, until the volunteer base is expanded. “We’re hoping that by having our own clinic it will attract more dentists.”

The dental clinic schedule in Brunswick will remain the same as in Bath, at least initially. Once additional staff comes on board, the clinic will expand into daytime hours.

The new facility will open in the fall.

The move from Bath and expansion into Brunswick was possible thanks to a $335,000 grant from the Maine Next Generation Foundation.

The grant will help Oasis install two dental offices in space donated by Mid Coast Hospital at the hospital campus on Baribeau Drive, below its current medical office.

For more information, call Oasis Free Clinics at (207) 721-9277.


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