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New dental school to open in Erie

Ian Kreher

Exciting news for Pennsylvania's dental community!  A new dental school is being built in our state for the first time in 114 years.

Check out the article below and at this link.

Erie Times-News

 November 18, 2010

By David Bruce

LECOM to open dental school in Erie

The Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine plans to do something no one in Pennsylvania has done in 114 years: Open a dental school.

LECOM expects to have a four-year program operating in 2015. It will be located on the medical school's Erie campus, 1858 W. Grandview Blvd.

"We will build a brand-new building, though we don't know exactly where on campus it will be," said Michael Visnosky, chairman of the LECOM board of trustees.

Visnosky announced LECOM's plans Wednesday morning during an Erie City Council meeting. He asked council to facilitate a $1 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant to begin construction.

Council members unanimously approved the resolution.

"The $1 million is just a start. It's an expensive proposition," Visnosky said. "It will cost between $37 million and $47 million to construct the school. This is the first of three grants we hope to receive."

In addition to finding money to build the school, LECOM must also have it accredited by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and the American Dental Association.

"We're fairly confident this will go through," Visnosky said. "This is a high-priority project."

If approved and built, the LECOM dental school would be the first to open in Pennsylvania since 1896, when the University of Pittsburgh established its dental school.

It would only be the fourth dental school in the state. The others are at Pitt, the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University.

LECOM's dental school would offer Doctor of Dental Medicine degrees. It would not offer degrees for dental hygienists or dental assistants.

"This dental school is great news for people in Pennsylvania," said Dennis Charlton, a Mercer County dentist and president-elect of the Pennsylvania Dental Association. "One of biggest problems right now is that there aren't enough new, young dentists staying in the state."

A 2009 survey of dentists and dental hygienists by the Pennsylvania Department of Health reported that 63 percent of Erie County's dentists are at least 50 years old.

"There is already a need for dentists in this area, and that need will grow as more and more of them reach retirement age," Visnosky said.

Opening a dental school would hopefully attract more dentists to Erie County and northwestern Pennsylvania, Charlton said, especially if a significant portion of its students come from the area.

One of the concerns the Pennsylvania Dental Association has had with the Pitt, Penn and Temple programs is their increasing number of out-of-state students, Charlton said.

"We have asked them to change their ratio, but they are reluctant to do that," Charlton said. "They want the best of the best for their program. But more in-state students would benefit Pennsylvania, I believe, because more of them would stay here to practice."

The lack of dentists is most severe for low-income patients.

Erie and Crawford counties were designated low-income Dental Health Professional Shortage Areas in 2006 by the federal government, meaning that there aren't enough dentists and oral surgeons who accept Medicaid patients.

"Having a dental school will help solve that problem quickly," Charlton said. "Most dental schools, including Pitt and Temple, have their third- and fourth-year students see patients. Both programs accept (Medicaid) patients, so it would give these people another place to go."

LECOM would increase its full-time staff at the Erie campus from about 200 to 286 people by the time the dental school opens, LECOM spokesman Pierre Bellicini said.

Construction is expected to begin in 2013 and take 18 to 24 months to complete. LECOM also is building a dental school at its Bradenton, Fla., campus that will open in 2012.