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Grants support dental training for rural areas

​​​​​​About 1 million of Wisconsin's 5.7 million residents don't have access to regular dental care, according to public health estimates. 

Some 300,000 people have untreated periodontal disease, a preventable condition for those receiving adequate dental care. This condition goes widely unnoticed until it becomes a serious acute, emergency medical condition. 

Compounding the issue is that Wisconsin dentists are retiring faster than they can be replaced, and rural areas of the State are the hardest hit.

But now, thanks to the generosity of Delta Dental of Wisconsin, which is headquartered in Stevens Point, and the Otto Bremer Foundation – which owns Bremer Banks in Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota – Marshfield Clinic is training the next generation of dentists to help patients in rural and underserved areas of the State have the healthiest mouth possible.

The Clinic's Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) Residency Program is training dentists to serve rural populations in Wisconsin. The one-year program will gradually increase capacity to train up to 25 residents annually. AEGD will help bridge the state's shortfall of dentists in rural areas.

Dental program

"This dental program will give dental residents a broad background and valuable experience in treating a variety of dental issues, ranging from general care to oral surgery," said Tiffany O'Brien, D.D.S., AEGD residency director and Marshfield Dental Center dentist who is training AEGD's first rotation of dental residents. "Our program is special because we provide unique opportunities for our AEGD residents to treat highly acute patients. Many of our patients are medically fragile or compromised and also may be mentally or physically challenged."

According to Education Division Administrator G. Joseph Kilsdonk, Au.D.,"interprofessional training  such as this is critical for advancing integrated care and  achieving improved patient outcomes."

Dental residents conduct their training at the clinic's dental centers, operated in partnership with Family Health Center of Marshfield, Inc. Not only do they perform examinations, root canals and periodontal surgery under the watch of a supervisor, but they get valuable experience on rotations at the Clinic with staff in Internal Medicine, Oral Surgery and other departments.

Amit Acharya, B.D.S., Ph.D., director of the Institute for Oral and Systemic Health at Marshfield Clinic Research Institute, said the generosity of the Otto Bremer Foundation and Delta Dental has created an important partnership that will benefit millions of Wisconsin residents. It means more affordable dental care and increased access for patients who are uninsured and on Medicaid. ​

"About 90 percent of Family Health Center's patients receive both medical and dental care," Acharya said. "That means that dental care providers and residents have access to the patients' complete medical records. The link between oral health and a person's overall wellness is strong and our providers have a complete picture of a person's health to give them the best care possible."

Continuing support

AEGD wouldn't be possible without community support. Delta Dental provided a grant to help with development for the dental residency program and additional funds to support a Program Resident in 2014 and 2015. The Otto Bremer Foundation also provided a grant.

"This entire program, except for the 'bricks and mortar,' was funded by donated dollars," said Matt Schneider, Marshfield Clinic Development officer. "These partners believe in the importance of dental care and making it accessible everywhere."

"Supporting dental workforce development and helping ensure there are dentists trained to meet the needs of the rural communities we serve is an integral part of our mission," said Ann Boson, director of the Charitable Fund at Delta Dental. "We are proud to partner with Marshfield Clinic and believe this AEGD program is a tremendous asset to improving the oral health of Wisconsin residents."

Jim Lahti, a Bremer bank president, said the AEGD fits the mission of the Otto Bremer Foundation based on the intent of its founder, Otto Bremer.

"His vision and longstanding commitment to communities during and after the Great Depression are carried forward today through the Foundation's work in the places that are homes to Bremer Banks," Lahti said. "The Otto Bremer Foundation strives to help build healthy, vibrant communities where basic needs are met, mutual regard is prized, and opportunities for economic, civic, and social participation are within everyone's reach."