BRUNSWICK — Any new parent will agree the first year is the most exciting, watching this new life you conceived experience those amazing “firsts.” You just beam when you talk about it, and growth spurts are simply amazing.
That’s how a dedicated corps of people at the Oasis Free Clinics in Brunswick are feeling about their “baby,” their dental clinic which has just turned a year old.
Oasis Free Clinics offers free medical care for adults, 18 to 64, without insurance and earning less than $21,105, if single, $28,420 if two adults in Freeport, Durham, Brunswick, Harpswell and the islands, and all of Sagadahoc County except Richmond.
Many are part of the “working poor” as they’re not eligible for MaineCare but can’t afford insurance either, so chances of dental insurance are even more remote.
For the past 14 years — until June 2016 — the free dental clinic operated every other Tuesday night out of the Jesse Albert Dental Clinic in Bath. In 2015, dental patient visits totaled 166. Volunteer hours amounted to 430, and the value of the service delivered was $63,000.
Last June, it became financially possible to combine the medical and dental into one space on Baribeau Drive in Brunswick and increase the dental clinic hours.
Now look at June 30 last year through July 1 this year. Talk about a growth spurt! Patient visits surged to 719, volunteer hours neared 700 and the value of the service delivered is more than $315,000.
“Our first year was beyond belief,” says Dr. Frederick Elsaesser, clinic dental director who positively crackles with energy. “We look back at that and say, ‘Oh my gosh! Look where we’ve come!’ We’ve got this up and running clinic that’s just wild and crazy and awesome.”
Elsaesser is actually a retired dentist, but you’d never know it to watch him and glimpse his enthusiasm for this clinic and what it does. He’s very actively campaigned and sought out other dentists and oral surgeons, with about 16 now volunteering. “We’ve gotten three retired status dentists plus myself … we have two dentists coming down from Bangor, people have reached out to us from Norway … we have a local endodontist, we have a local oral surgeon … so it’s kind of exciting because our catchment of recruiting is getting well outside the area.”
And with their new state-of-the-art clinic it’s their space now so there’s more hours offered to patients. While there are still the every other Tuesday evening clinics, dental services are now offered Monday and Friday mornings, with plans to expand that even further.
Another big change is the addition of a dental assistant, hired thanks to grant funding.
“That really opened everything up for us,” says Executive Director Anita Ruff. “Her role was to get everything done: Medical histories, X-rays, so when our volunteer dentists come in, they can look at the X-rays and just start going to work. So that’s increased our efficiency and we’re able to see more people.”
“This is what I dreamed it would be, yes,” says dental assistant Tammy Nautel. “I was on board with the dream of it, and doing what I had to do to stay a part of it and watch it grow. We’ve all worked really hard. I’m so proud of everybody here.”
One of the volunteers this summer is Allie Ward, who has worked as a dental assistant but just took her first entrance exam for dental school at the University of New England. She finds this very beneficial for her training. “You’re actually interacting with real patients, and they’re really grateful for the work we give them and the treatment they’re able to have.”
The proof is in the results … those people benefiting from dental care they couldn’t afford. “It gives them encouragement to go from here in a more confident way,” says Nautel. “People cared for them, and it’s an awesome feeling.”
Lora, a patient, agrees wholeheartedly. “When I first walked in here, I was really comfortable, and they’re really, really nice,” she says. “They make you feel at home, and I don’t mind going to the dentist now.”
“There’s a lot of people like me that can’t afford to go to the dentist and have all this done. They’re volunteering their work and … it’s just wonderful. I feel more confident,” she adds, with a genuine, big smile.