Felix Daley and his wife, Tracy, are getting pediatric dental care for their five children thanks to the opening of University of Maryland Dental School in Perryville.

And they’re not alone.

Union Hospital partnered with the university’s dental school in 2007 to establish the 26-chair clinic in Perryville. It opened Aug. 11 on the second floor of Union Hospital’s Principio Health Center on Route 40

Its mission is to provide oral health care to Cecil County’s underserved population in Cecil County, primarily to children without dental insurance. The clinic also offers geriatric care, oral disease treatment, orthodontic care, emergency services and dental hygienists through a partnership with Cecil College.

“We really like the Perryville clinic,” said Daley, who brought his 5-year-old son, Anthony James, to the clinic for his second tooth extraction and his 13-year-old son for a cleaning and filling.

The Daleys, who live in Crystal Beach, found out about the clinic when they showed up at Union’s emergency room in September with Anthony, who had an abscessed tooth.

“We brought our youngest child first, and now, we’ll get the older ones in for cleanings,” Daley said. “We get quick appointments, it’s beautiful and everyone is friendly.”

“I’m going to give my tooth to the tooth fairy,” said Anthony, clinging a tooth-shaped, glow-in-the-dark container that held his extracted tooth.

“That’s what this clinic is all about,” Dr. Christian S. Stohler, the dean of the university’s dental school, said after stopping to chat with the Daley family in the clinic’s waiting room.

Serving the greatest need

The genesis for this facility came from a series of events, described by Stohler as somewhat of a “perfect storm.”

“We met for the first time at Union Hospital more than two years ago and clicked,” said Dr. Ken Lewis, the president and CEO of Union Hospital. “Within 45 minutes, Dr. Stohler and I decided what we would do. It was great magic, everything fell into place.”

Stohler, a longtime proponent of expanding access to oral health care in Maryland, wanted his students to be able to practice in rural areas to help them gain experience.

In 2006, Union Hospital Foundation sanctioned a a survey to determine what health needs were not being met in Cecil County.

“To my surprise, dental care for the pediatric population was the greatest need they found,” Lewis said.

Children up to age 21 are considered pediatric patients for dental care, said Gregory G. Zeller, an associate professor and director of the Perryville Dental Clinic.

Zeller said the staff has been seeing about 20 to 25 patients a day while getting the facility operational, but expects to take care of as many as 100 patients each day.

“We’ve seen about 700 so far, using referrals from Union Hospital and word of mouth,” said Zeller, who is planning an official grand opening next month.

Top-notch facility

The 12,000-square-foot center has 26 technically advanced chairs, 10 treatment areas for children, consulting rooms, classroom areas, a sterilization room, labs, digital radiology and 3-D imaging.

“Perryville Clinic is equipped better than our school in Baltimore,” Stohler said.

The facility has gained international attention and equipment donations from Switzerland, Finland and Canada.

“It’s the best of the best,” Stohler said.

Lewis said the hospital’s partnership with the University of Maryland would be a model for others.

“It’s a great sharing of community resources,” Stohler said.

Students and faculty also appear to be enjoying the new facility.

Dr. George Williams, a member of the dental school faculty, travels from Baltimore two days a week to supervise students in Perryville.

“I can get closer teaching opportunities here than in Baltimore because it’s a more personalized atmosphere,” Williams said. “The patients we’ve seen are really in need, so it helps us focus on our task here.”

Faculty members said they were surprised to learn that most of the water supply in Cecil County lacks fluoride, which they said probably adds to the poor dental health of local residents.

“We’re seeing a lot of neglect here,” Stohler said. “Some of our patients have been in pain for years.”

A home away from home

First-year students spend one week at the Perryville clinic, while fourth-year dentistry students spend two weeks on a rotating basis.

While assigned to the Perryville clinic, the students live in the renovated carriage house at the Donaldson Brown Center, which also is owned by the university.

Anthony J. Carter, a 25-year-old, fourth-year dental student from Miami, spent his first rotation in Cecil County two weeks ago.

“The clinic is awesome,” he said. “I love the chairs and the patients are very appreciative.”

Zeller called it a high-tech learning lab.

“It’s better than any other model we have,” he said. “And, it excites the students.”

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