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Maine's only dental school plans to add more students next fall to meet heavy demand

Virus Outbreak Washington
Elaine Thompson
AP file
In this Wednesday, May 27, 2020 photo, dentist Dr. Kathleen Saturay wears additional protective equipment, including a face shield and disposable mask over a respirator mask, as she exams a patient in Seattle.

Maine's only dental school says it's adding more capacity in hopes of helping meet heavy demand for dental services, especially in rural Maine.

Officials at the University of New England's College of Dental Medicine say their dentistry program, based in Portland, will be adding eight more students per year by next fall.

Interim Dean Nici Kimmes said she hopes that will fill critical needs across Maine, as providers report long waitlists for services. She expects the need to only grow following the enactment of a new law expanding dental coverage for residents with MaineCare.

"Some practices, it's in to next year to be seen as a new patient. Particularly a new MaineCare patient, the waitlist can be quite long," Kimmes said. "So the need is definitely there."

UNE's dental school currently enrolls 64 students per year, but that number will go up to 72 students by the fall of 2023.

The Finance Authority of Maine also administers a program providing loan payment assistance to certain graduates pursuing a career as a dentist in Maine.

Kimmes said about a quarter of the school's 377 total graduates since 2017 are licensed to practice in Maine.