MEXICO – Thanks to a $325,000 grant last month, work is moving right along on a community dental clinic that will be based in Rumford but serve all of Oxford County.

Last week, community leaders were briefed on the project inside a conference room at the Oxford Federal Credit Union in Mexico.

“This is big news, and this is good news,” Patty Duguay of the River Valley Healthy Communities Coalition said on Sunday afternoon in Byron. “It’s good news for the community. Oral health is so important to overall health.”

Duguay and Rumford Hospital Chief Executive Officer John Welsh gave a PowerPoint presentation on the project to about 20 people.

Funding to date for the Rumford Dental Health Center totals $403,150. It will be located within about 1,800 square feet on the first floor of the River Valley Technology Center in Rumford.

Initially, when it opens in mid-February, about 10 people will be employed. They include two dentists and two or three hygienists, four to five support staff and a center supervisor. There will be six dental rooms equipped with digital radiography.

Duguay said one dentist has signed on through September 2008 and the center is actively recruiting another.

Getting the $325,000 Maine Health Access Foundation grant meant that work to refurbish space for the new dental health center could finally begin, Duguay said.

“We think it will be real inviting. That’s our intention,” she added.

The center is projected to annually serve more than 4,500 children and adults during more than 9,000 dental visits per year. A sliding-fee scale will be used so that care is affordable for all patients.

Duguay said she hopes that the Rumford dental center will keep people with dental pain or infection out of hospital emergency rooms and nip away at Maine’s shortage of dentists.

According to information provided at last Wednesday’s briefing, the area has four dentists, or one per 4,250 residents. In Oxford County, there is one dentist per 3,422 residents; in Maine, one dentist per 2,165 residents and nationally, one dentist per 1,656 residents.

However, within three years, due to retirement, there will only be one dentist per 17,000 residents in the River Valley area, Duguay said.

Community Dental Clinic in Portland will be the lead agency for the Rumford dental clinic, but partners include RVHCC, RVTC, Rumford Hospital, Tri-County Mental Health Services, and the U.S. Public Health Service. Combined, the entities are called the Western Maine Health Access and Integration Coalition.

Founded in 1918 as the Red Cross Children’s Dental Clinic in Portland, Community Dental operates dental health centers in Farmington, Lewiston, Peaks Island, Portland, Saco and Sanford. It annually provides 32,000 dental health visits to 15,000 children and adults.

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