East Side Family Clinic doubles dental services

University of Minnesota dental student Jonathan Song works on a woman’s teeth at the recently opened East Side Family Clinic. The clinic recently teamed up with the university to bring dental students in, bolstering the clinic’s dental service capacity. (Patrick Larkin/Review)

Dental clinic teams up with U of M to boost dental staff

Things are getting into gear at the recently opened East Side Family Clinic’s dental facility.

The state of the art wing of the building, which opened in November 2013, is a huge boost in dental services for the non-profit organization - it’s gone from having four dental chairs on the East Side to 20.

And thanks to a partnership with the University of Minnesota, the nonprofit clinic now has the staffing to fill nearly all of those chairs, which serve a high number of uninsured patients and lower-income patients on a sliding scale, alongside the fully insured.

About 75 percent of the clinic’s patients are women and children, and many of the dental services provided are discounted as much as 50 percent for those who qualify.

With the addition of eight senior University of Minnesota dental students starting Monday, Jan. 13, the clinic is operating at about double its previous capacity.

Dr. Jason Fournier, CEO of West Side Community Health Services which runs the clinic, called the addition “a dramatic increase” in dental services.

The U of M will have eight senior dental students on-site every week, in addition to a fully licensed dentist to monitor, assist and instruct the students, and that’s on top of the clinic’s own eight dentists.

“We’re excited to be in the community,” said Michael Mrosak, lead dentist for the University of Minnesota students.

He said the partnership with WSCHS follows with a long-term goal of the university, which is to get senior dental students working in off-campus clinics.

The partnership also gives the school more flexibility in terms of how they run programming, he said.

It’s the largest outside site the U has worked with to date in the Twin Cities, he said.

Fournier said the partnership with the U allows the clinic to provide services to folks of all income levels, without breaking the bank.

“It’s very, very reasonable compared to what it would’ve cost us otherwise,” he said. “It expands our ability to provide services within the community.”

Last week University Of Minnesota dentistry student Jonathan Song was treating patients in the new facilities, which he said were on par with those at the dental school.

His young client had severe pain in a number of her upper teeth due to lack of dental care.

Song said the added dental facilities at the East Side Family Health Clinic means he gets more one-on-one time with his U of M dental instructor. And from the health clinic’s perspective, it has extra staff there to serve more low-income patients.

Identifying a need

The $10.5 million health clinic in its entirety is relatively new -- the facility opened in April 2013 with the help of a federal grant, bringing expanded health services to East Siders, whether they’ve have insurance or not. The 34,000-square-foot facility, located at 895 E. Seventh St. on a lot formerly owned by the St. Paul Port Authority, seeks to be a one-stop shop for community health, providing health, dental and psychiatric help all in one location.

Fournier said that the large dental wing was added because the nonprofit organization noticed the acute need for dental care among low-income, uninsured residents.

“We’ve always had high demand for our dental services, and we’ve never been able to meet the need overall,” Fournier said.

According to rough estimates, Fournier said, 40 percent of the East Side population is without dental insurance.

While the clinic has “never been able to meet the community need overall,” he said, “we’re getting closer.”

Open slots, rotting teeth

Brad McDonnell, lead dentist for WSCHS, said that historically, the group has had a constant waiting list for dental work. Now, thanks to added U dentistry students, it has openings in its schedule.

But he’s hoping those openings will fill up, too.

The addition of dentistry students “is going to help us fulfill our vision ... to have a community where all people have access to health care,” he said.

Community dental work often means treating severe cavities or gum disease -- “we consistently see more complicated problems and more cases of dental neglect,” McDonnell said.

Opening eyes

McDonnell said his eyes were opened to doing community-oriented health while he was in dental school. He volunteered at Union Gospel Mission providing dental services while he was in student, he said. That in turn plugged him into the possibilities of working with organizations such as West Side Family Health Services.

“I found out, this really is a passion of mine to work with folks that are a little bit less able to afford the services, and a little more in need of the services,” McDonnell said.

He’s hoping the University of Minnesota dentistry students will have a similar experience, and be inspired to work in community health.

He said that despite the challenges, there’s a lot of value in community health work. “A lot comes back to you in appreciation from the clients that you treat,” he said.

Across the Twin Cities, he said a major issue at emergency rooms is dental problems. He’s hoping community-based dentistry will help reduce that problem. He said he sees directly “how much (dental care) can enhance their lives.”

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at eastside@lillienews.com, or follow on Twitter at @ESRPatrickLark.


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