MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The new WVU School of Dentistry Innovation Center believes it can have a major ripple effect throughout the state and region when it comes to dental hygiene.

In a country where 350 million people are served by fewer than 170,000 dentists, West Virginia has become a poster child for the difficulty in finding dental care.

“When I was a dental student, I had two patients,” Dr. Lauren Yura, Director of Biddington Center for Dental Innovation, said. “Both would travel. I think the longest one was about four hours that they would come. The reason why is that that was the closest dental school to them.”

The new facility offers a number of technological benefits that will cut down on visits for those who use varying schools of dentistry throughout the region — generally considered to be around half the price of a private practice — to treat their teeth.

“They really appreciate the care the students give,” Yura said. “It takes a little bit longer, but it’s good, high quality care and it’s worth it to make that trip.”

The Innovation Center, one of three opened at universities in North America, is the brainchild of CRET — an organization hoping to provide dental students with a working base of dental industry knowledge to tap into when they enter private practice.

“The whole charter of CRET is we’re trying to bring the manufacturing and distribution community — the trades if you will — to the dental education environment,” Don Hobbs, acting CEO of CRET Organization, said at the opening. “The students, before they leave, can actually in a regular clinic environment and get to use all the latest and greatest technology, brand new equipment. It really is about the graduating dental student. That’s what CRET is all about.”

Approximately 5,500 graduate each year across the nation, entering a field that seems to have surprisingly sparse numbers.

“I think access to dental care is a problem throughout the United States, no question about it,” Dr. Edward Rossomondo, President of Crete and Professor Emeritus at University of Connecticut, said. “We are about 350 million people. We only have about 170,000 dentists in the entire country. You can tell right away from the numbers, it’s a little different.”

The CDC estimated around 30 percent of adults over the age of 65 in West Virginia in 2014 had lost all of their natural teeth due to tooth decay or gum disease. That same year, they found a slim majority of adults over the age of 18 had visited a dentist in the previous 12 months. Dr. Yura said this is why the Innovation Center cutting down on the amount of visits patients need is a crucial aspect of the new facility.

“To be able to provide that kind of high quality dental care at a reduced cost is something really unique, and I think it’s really going to speak to a lot of patients,” she said.

The Innovation Center opened earlier this month. Fourth year dental students will serve a minimum of two weeks in at that site, but can volunteer for additional time.

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