WINTHROP — A local business that provides dental cleanings and other preventive oral health services will soon receive $30,000 in federal funding, improving its owner’s ability to test for cavities and other problems and allowing her to hire a part-time office worker.

Kim Morgan Fichthorn, who first opened Maine Dental Boutique early this year, has successfully applied for the funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, through what’s called the Community Development Block Grant program.

The grant funding comes at a moment of change for Fichthorn, a dental hygienist who has been cleaning teeth for more than 20 years and decided to open a business in Winthrop after moving from Texas to Maine.

She recently relocated the business from a unit inside the Winthrop Commerce Center to a complex just up the road, at 168-C Main Street.

Now that she has a sign and storefront right on Main Street, Fichthorn hopes the new, larger location will catch the attention of passersby and be more inviting to families. In the eight months since she opened, she’s seen about eight patients a week, but she says she has the capacity to see more than five times that amount.

Fichthorn also hopes the federal grant will allow her to expand the types of services that she can offer to her patients without increasing their fees. Right now, she charges $75 for adults to have their teeth cleaned and $55 for children to receive the same service. At the same time, she said, she can refer those patients to dentists if she identifies cavities or other problems.

But with the grant funding, Fichthorn hopes to purchase an X-ray, sensors and software that will allow her to more clearly show those problems to her patients. If she takes X-rays, she said, she can automatically forward them to a dentist.

It’ll be “easier to convince patients” to have their problems checked, she said. “A picture is worth a thousand words. You can use a mirror to show them, but it’s easier if you can pull it up on a screen.”

Fichthorn added that she is “so thankful and grateful” for the federal grant, which is administered through the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

This year, about $10.2 million in the federal grants are being awarded to groups in Maine, according to Doug Ray, spokesman for the department. Of that amount, $700,000 has been earmarked for micro-enterprise grants, including the funding that Fichthorn will receive.

Kim Morgan Fitchthorn’s new dentistry business, Maine Dental Boutique, is seen Wednesday in Winthrop. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

The grantees usually receive the funds as they incur eligible costs, often over the course of a year, Ray said in an email. To receive the funding, Fichthorn agreed to hire someone who comes from a low- or moderate-income household to work as a part-time office assistant, according to a copy of her project description that’s on file with the state.

To qualify for the grants, towns must agree to back the applicants. There is some risk for any municipality that does so, as it’s on the hook to pay back the grant funding if the business owner can’t meet his or her obligations under the program.

In Fichthorn’s case, members of the Winthrop Town Council were impressed by the initiative that she showed in applying for the federal money and the business plan that she wrote for her application, said Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Town Council. They also supported her goal of expanding access to oral health care, which is lacking in many rural parts of Maine.

“Kim has been very energetic and dedicated to getting her business established and marketing it,” said Fuller, who also has been leading an effort to spark development in downtown Winthrop. “It seemed that it was definitely a good investment to support her application.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker

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