It’s true that there is no dental school in Kansas, but Wichita State does have a program that offers advanced training for dentists – and a clinic offering discounted dental work to the public that goes along with it.
Many people still don’t know about the clinic, built in 2011 on North Oliver near WSU’s Hughes Metropolitan Complex campus, said Natalie Olmsted, the clinic director.
“We receive no state funding, so it’s hard to put together a marketing budget. We’ve been relying on word of mouth,” Olmsted said. But Wichita State wants the clinic to be better known, and it will be partnering this year with other organizations to do dental screenings for neighborhood children and provide dental care as part of the Kansas Mission of Mercy, which is two days of free dental services offered in a particular community. This year Mission of Mercy is in Dodge City.
“We’re going to do more outreach, get our residents out there,” Olmsted said.
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“We weren’t seeing too many cases” when the clinic opened, she said, but the number has increased in the past year.
The clinic opened to give dental residents licensed by the state of Kansas a place to get more hands-on experience in areas such as oral surgery and crowns, Olmsted said. The clinic provides virtually all of the services of a private practice – including increasingly popular dental implants – and prices are 15 to 20 percent less than those of a private-practice dentist.
But appointments can be longer, because most of the residents are just out of dental school, and they come to the clinic to get more experience and learn to work more quickly. “By January or February they’ve really picked up their pace and improved their time management,” Olmsted said.
The clinic is accredited for seven residents, and it currently has four – two of whom came to the clinic straight out of school, one who was practicing but wanted more experience with complex cases, and one who had worked for a safety-net clinic and needed to broaden the kinds of cases she was treating.
Thirteen faculty members who are practicing dentists, including specialists such as oral surgeons, supervise the residents.
Many of the clinic’s patients don’t have insurance. But the clinic does accept Delta Dental and Blue Cross Blue Shield. And it does file insurance claims for other insurance providers, but the patient must pay the full cost of services up front.
The dental clinic does teeth cleaning, but it prefers to refer people to another dental-health clinic, on the main campus, for that: the place where WSU’s dental hygiene students get their training.
The dental clinic is often overlooked or confused with the dental hygiene clinic, Olmsted said. But Wichita State is working to make the clinics partners and strengthen them both, and within two or three years, it is hoped that they may be housed under the same roof on North Oliver, Olmsted said.
The two clinics already refer patients back and forth as needed, and last year their programs were placed together under the umbrella of the School of Oral Health within WSU’s College of Health Professions to help them join forces and become more visible.
Services at the dental hygiene clinic also are discounted but, because of the student/instructor interaction during appointments, patients are told to expect appointments of two to three and a half hours for services such as teeth cleaning, sometimes with follow-up appointments, said Denise Maseman, head of the Department of Dental Hygiene. Payment is made up front, and people who have insurance must file on their own for any reimbursement.
The dental clinic is doing more and more dental implants as demand rises for that alternative to partial dentures and bridges, the clinic’s program director, Dexter Woods, said. A dental implant is a titanium implant that takes the place of a missing tooth, without the need to stabilize the teeth on either side of the missing tooth, as is done with a partial denture or bridge, Woods said. The implants also are used to stabilize uncomfortable dentures that move around in the mouth, he said.
The dental clinic is open year-round, except during WSU’s Christmas break and for a brief period in the summer. The dental hygiene clinic is open during the fall and spring semesters.