Delta Dental grant helping to keep College of Dental Medicine graduates in Maine
Daniel Duarte, D.M.D., ’20 says he much prefers the cold winters in Bingham, Maine, to the sweltering summer heat where he grew up in Nicaragua.
“When people ask me, I tell them I don't mind the winters here,” Duarte explained. “I don't mind the temperature and I don't mind the snow. The only thing I don't like is the ice.”
Duarte is the only dentist in town, practicing at the Bingham Area Health and Dental Center. He is one of 12 graduates of UNE’s College of Dental Medicine now practicing in rural areas of the state who received funds from the Delta Dental Plan of Maine Loan Repayment Program.
The scholarship and loan repayment program was established at UNE in 2016. Delta Dental recently renewed its commitment to the program for $300,000.
The gift covers three students for loan repayment up to $90,000 each. Each recipient signs an initial two-year contract to practice in an underserved area and can elect to sign a second two-year contract at the conclusion of the first. Thirty-thousand dollars is reserved for scholarships for three other students completing their fourth-year rotation in a rural location.
Duarte says while the climates of Maine and Nicaragua are certainly different, the need for affordable dental care is the same in both places.
“There wasn't a dentist in the town where I grew up; no one really appreciated dental care,” he said. “Back there, and here, people became their own dentists. I would hear stories that they would remove their own teeth.”
Receiving loan repayments from the grant helped shape Duarte’s decision to locate in an underserved area after he graduated.
“The salary is much lower here in a public health setting compared to private practice or even corporate dentistry,” he stated. “So, this facilitated my path to want to serve a community that really needed it. Coming from a small town with no local dentists, I know how hard it is to find, or even afford, dental care. I am really enjoying my time here because the patients are super grateful.”
C.J. Castonguay D.M.D., ’18 knows that feeling well. He is a dentist at the Katahdin Valley Health Center serving the Millinocket area.
“The experience is rewarding in the sense that everyone in town knows you,” he said. “It is a great feeling when you meet patients in public and they are happy to see you and talk with you.”
Castonguay says it would be difficult to settle in a rural practice without help from the grant.
“Realizing what my monthly student loan payments would be was daunting, but I knew I wanted to work in an area that was in need of a dentist and a place where I could have roots,” he commented. “The Delta Dental Loan Repayment Program helped make my decision to practice in Millinocket easier.”
Tom Raffio, president and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, notes that the company’s loan repayment funding is achieving exactly what was intended when the program was launched.
“We are exceptionally proud of our partnership with UNE and the highly skilled dental graduates now expanding access to oral health care throughout Maine,” he stated. “Our commitment to building a pipeline of dentists to underserved areas is bearing fruit. It is exciting and hopeful news that we are pleased to share.”
Northeast Delta Dental is the largest provider of dental benefits in northern New England and was an important corporate partner in the development of UNE’s College of Dental Medicine.
The funding in the renewal of the grant will be allocated to students graduating in 2021. To date, Delta Dental has contributed $1.5 million to the program.