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Grant aimed at bringing better smiles

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By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — In response to concerns about availability of dental care in Addison County, two groups are trying to start a dental clinic that could serve area residents who now lack adequate care.

The need for a dental center in the county is likely to grow, according to Moira Cook, district director of the Middlebury office of the Vermont Department of Health. “We are concerned about the access to dental care in this county, so anything to make dental care more readily available would be a good thing.”

The area might not have a shortage of dental care providers right now, Cook said, but as dentists retire or leave the area, some fear that a problem will arise. “There’s pretty decent coverage in this county, but we’re more concerned about the future,” she said.

Seymour Rettinger of Middlebury, a former dentist who retired for medical reasons, agreed. “All practices in the county are saturated,” he said. “They’re doing the best they can, but the reality is, who’s going to get treatment?”

He is part of a nonprofit organization called Addison County Dental Care. The group hopes to either open a dentist’s office or buy an existing one, and choose their clients based partly on financial need. “We are looking to establish a dental practice in Addison County that will service the Medicare population and will establish a sliding scale in coverage.”

Rettinger hopes to open his office around the spring of 2007. “This time next year, we should be up and running,” he said. That date was settled on because he hopes to recruit a practitioner or practitioners newly graduated from dental school.

A second group is focusing specifically on Bristol and the five-town area of Northeastern Addison County. Last month, the Vermont Department of Health gave a $8,500 planning grant to the Bi-State Primary Care Association, so it could work with a Bristol group to research the possibility of opening a community dental care center in the Bristol area.

According to John T. Jones, the Vermont community development coordinator of the Bi-State Primary Care Association, planning for such a facility is still in the early stages.

However, Jones said hi organization has been working with a group of “interested citizens” in the area who are trying to meet growing needs. A group of residents of the five-town area, including Roger Barkin, a former dentist who lives in Ripton, and Starksboro resident Elissa Close, a nurse practitioner at Fletcher-Allen Health Care in Burlington, has been working towards creating a facility in partnership with the Bi-State Primary Care Association.

To Rettinger, the location of the facility is a secondary concern. “We’re looking at Bristol the other way,” he said. He feels that once a location and practitioner are established, sending the dentist to Bristol from Middlebury once a week, for example, would be just as easy as the reverse.

Close explained that there is some debate over whether the area needs a dental office specifically, or a health center that would include dental care among other services. “There’s been some thought on what a community health center would look like,” she said.

Close added that the recent grant will make their work easier. “Now that we have a little money and don’t have to do this on a totally volunteer basis, my hope is that this will move faster.”

Rettinger agreed. Representatives of the two groups met on Friday, partly to determine how best to use the planning grant, and he hopes they will be able to work together on a joint venture. “The two groups are fusing,” he said.

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