OAKLAND — Shannon Grip and her children have been visiting the Waterville Community Dental Center for years, so naturally they showed up at the center’s long-time location at The Center in Waterville for appointments Wednesday, only to realize they were in the wrong spot.

After more than 18 years in The Center, the non-profit dental center moved into a new space in Oakland’s FirstPark at the end of December to accommodate plans to transform The Center into a downtown arts hub.

“It’s beautiful,” said Grip, of Albion, as her two children got their teeth cleaned Wednesday morning. “It’s a total upgrade. It really is. It’s just brighter. There’s more space. No one’s bumping into each other.”

The move represents a $1.2 million investment in the dental center, which specializes in providing affordable dental care to low-income patients, the uninsured and under-insured.

Over the last year, the center was able to raise almost all of the money needed. They recently received a $500,000 grant from the Harold Alfond Foundation and are now just $35,000 short of their goal.

“It’s miraculous,” said Barbara Covey, chairman of the board of the Waterville Community Dental Center. “At the same time, I knew deep in my heart from the beginning if people really understood the importance of this we could get the community to support it. It’s really gratifying to know it did happen.”

Being able to keep the center alive in a new space was critical, Covey said, as dental care is a foundation for overall health and it is often difficult for low-income patients and the uninsured to access care.

Maine is one of 13 states that doesn’t provide for dental care, except emergency work, for adults through Medicaid, though children can access preventative care through MaineCare.

The new space located at 2 Evergreen Drive relocates the center from an aging space in The Center, part of which was a former photography studio, into a renovated physical therapy office that employees said serves their needs and the needs of their patients much better.

“It’s awesome,” said Hope Ricker, a dental hygienist who has worked for the center for more than 17 years. “It makes my job easier just to have this space. It’s also a benefit for the patients. People are always mentioning parking and it’s a lot easier to get in and out here. And it’s so bright. It’s so good.”

The dental center was notified last February it would have to move out of the space it was renting from arts organization Waterville Creates! to make way for the downtown arts hub that is being planned in conjunction with Colby College.

It was a monumental task to move out of The Center, find a new space and raise the money necessary to renovate it and make the move, Covey said.

In July, the center announced plans to raise $1.2 million for the project and they also used a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to leverage funds as they continued to raise money.

“Every penny that’s gone into it — from small contributions from people to larger institutions that appreciated the value of this — they have all been critical,” Covey said.

The new space includes nine operatories, small rooms with individual dental chairs set up, as opposed to seven in the old space, and the center has also added an oral surgery suite to allow for more on-site surgeries rather than referrals.

That means they’ll be able to see more patients and add staff, Covey said.

With the move, the center will also start to serve as a community teaching site for the University of New England College of Dental Medicine.

The partnership would allow the center to host a dental student each semester and hopefully, according to Covey, encourage more dentists to live and work permanently in the area.

Currently, the center employs one full-time dentist, two part-time dentists and three dental hygienists. They see about 4,000 patients each year, about 75 percent of whom have MaineCare and about 75 percent of whom are children.

“They’ve been really great to my kids,” Grip said. “They’re just decent people. We love the staff.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.