LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Manatee County's first dental school has opened a group practice on its Lakewood Ranch campus, and the first class of dental students has begun seeing patients in a fully-equipped, state-of-the-art medical facility.
Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine is preparing the next generation of dentists, the school's first graduating class of 100 students since it opened two years ago. Students are beginning an extensive year of clinical training in 10 group practices that are accepting patients from the community four days a week, and moving to five days in May, it was announced at a news conference Thursday at the campus, 4800 Lakewood Ranch Blvd.
An estimated 200 patients will be able to receive affordable dental care each day, paying about 60 percent of the cost of a regular dental visit, and Florida Medicaid patients will be accepted, according to the dean of the dental school, Dr. Robert Hirsch,
"We're committed to providing quality care, and our patients will be selected based on our teaching needs. When LECOM students graduate, our goal is to give them an equivalent of four years of training in the field," Hirsch said.
So far, the response to the opening of the group practice, which officially launched on March 17, has been very positive, officials said, with patients coming as far away as Fort Myers and Boca Raton. Most of the patients who have been part of the initial screening are
older, with chronic medical conditions that often trigger the need for dental care. As time goes on, the group practice will open its doors to children as well, said Dr. Francis Curd, assistant dean of clinical education.
"We've had a waiting list for a long time. People have watched our campus go up and seen our students in scrubs walking around Main Street in downtown Lakewood Ranch," he said.
The dental care suites, located on the second floor of the school, are fully equipped and state of the art, so students, under the supervision of LECOM faculty dentists, can provide comprehensive dental care services that include cleanings, periodontal gum treatments, crowns, root canals, tooth extractions, dental restorations and full and partial dental prosthesis treatments.
The students, who will treat two patients a day between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., will have at their disposal the latest diagnostic tools, from digital X-rays for the teeth and the entire mouth to 3-D full head scanning, and they'll learn to keep track of their patient records with electronic medical records software.
"Students are learning the importance of good communication skills and how to treat patients of different ages and diverse ethnic backgrounds in underserved areas where dental care is vitally needed," said Hirsch, who pointed out that no other dental school in the country has a group practice like LECOM's.
Timothy Speer, 24, of Georgia, part of the group dental practice, considers it an amazing opportunity.
"This hands-on experience is very rewarding, especially from start to finish seeing our patients with complete smiles."
As in modern dental offices, the LECOM School of Dental Medicine group practice will be fully staffed with receptionists, hygienists, technicians and a clerical staff available to work with student dentists and their patients. The glass-enclosed suites make it easy for faculty to observe the students from a less intrusive viewpoint, and skylights with tropical designs above each patient chair offer a relaxed setting.
Since students are giving priority to education and quality of care, patients are made aware that the time spent treating them may be lengthier than a normal dentist visit. Anyone interested in becoming a patient, and seeing if they qualify, based on the clinical needs of the program, can contact LECOM's dental group practice office for an appointment and an initial examination at 941-405-1600.
Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.