Dr. Chris Wnek and his assistant work with a patient at the Oasis free dental clinic in this 2015 file photo.

BRUNSWICK — Anita Ruff would love it if she and her coworkers weren’t needed anymore, but as the director of Oasis Free Clinics for low-income adults needing routine dental care, she doesn’t see that happening anytime soon.

“We could run 24 hours a day, seven days a week and never run out of patients,” she said. “If you are low income in this community you have very few options” for dental care.

A bill proposed by Rep. Drew Gattine of, D-Westbrook, though, that could change. Gattine has introduced a bill to add an adult dental for adults who receive MaineCare, the state’s version of Medicaid. The bill, which is still being drafted, would include coverage for cleanings, screenings, diagnostic care and filling cavities, the Portland Press Herald reported.

Right now in Maine, adults on Medicaid are only covered for emergency dental care.

While Ruff said she and her board members would love to be able to close their doors with a happy “mission accomplished,” she does not see that happening anytime soon.

“There are a lot of ifs right now,” she said.

For example, according to Ruff, in order for a bill like Gattine’s proposal to be effective, there need to be more dentists in the community, more dentists who accept MaineCare, and better reimbursement rates for those who do.

That being said, if everything were to fall into place, she imagines many of their patients, who are all between 18 and 64, have no health insurance and fall below 200 percent of the poverty guidelines, would qualify.

“The bottom line is, we exist to serve those who fall through the cracks,” she said.

As a nonprofit, Oasis has the flexibility to create a care model that meets the community’s needs, whether that means expanding services to 250 percent from 200, treating low-income seniors, or whatever the need may be.

“People will still need dental services,” she said. “We would love to not be needed but unfortunately that is not going to be the case for a while.”

Last fiscal year, Oasis had 1,071 patient visits over 1,027 hours: an estimated $435,447 value. Patients are always thankful of their services, something she said is “heartbreaking,” when considering that volunteer dentists are often pulling teeth.

Maine has a historically low number of dentists — the state’s rate was 50 dentists per 100,000 people in 2017, compared to the national average of 61 per 100,000 people, the Press Herald reported.

According to the clinic’s 2018 annual report, there are currently 26 dentists, four dental hygienists and five dental assistants volunteering.

“We have phenomenal dentists in this community and we’re very lucky to have so many volunteers,” ruff said.

“While we support the idea of adult benefits, I don’t think we’re running out of business,” she added, and as long as there are people in the community to serve, their doors will be open.

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