Teen Camp Explores Careers in Dentistry

The goal of the Dental Careers Exploration Camp is to introduce more Maine students to the field

Playing dentist may not be most teens idea of summer fun, but Noble High School Senior Jordan White couldn't wait to put on her surgical gown and mask.

"I just really like getting to know other people who want to do this," said White. "I didn't think there were that many other people who want to be a dentist!"

She and 13 other high school teens are spending three days at the University of New England's Dental Careers Exploration Camp in Portland, Maine.

While their friends are at the lake or beach, they're learning how to drill molars on simulated patients.

"You can see it doesn't take much pressure to remove tooth material," said one of the instructors, hovering over a pair of campers drilling and filling their first tooth.

The cost of this camp to parents: Nothing; the goal is to introduce more Maine students to the field of dentistry.

"Historically Northern New England - Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire - have had the lowest number of applicants to dental schools in the country," said Dr. Jeffrey Doss, an oral surgeon and faculty member.

That's resulted in a serious shortage of dentists in the region; Maine has only one dentist for every 2,000 residents, and experts say the shortage could turn into a crisis. The average age of a dentist in Maine is 55, so in the next 10 years, hundreds of dentists will be needed to meet the need.

In the fall of 2013, the University of New England opened the state's first College of Dental Medicine. The faculty hopes the camp will serve as a feeder for the school. In addition to drilling and filling, the campers learn to take x-rays, make teeth impressions and suture gum tissue using raw chicken breasts.

"And while we do the suturing, we talk a bit about what it's like to get into dental school," said Dr. Doss.

Applicants are carefully selected because it takes a lot of skills to enter the field.

"They have to know biomedical science. They need to know the materials. They have to be good with their hands, and great with people," said Dr. Lionel Vachon, Asst. Dean for the College of Dental Medicine. "It's a true art form to restore people's mouths."

The campers will all go home with a much better understanding of dentistry and what it will take to enter a profession that’s anxious to put them to work.

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