Those in the L-A area in need of dental care but unable to visit a dentist’s office can now call upon a new business that will bring dental hygiene services to them.
Lewiston-Auburn’s newest business, Healthy Maine Smiles, provides professional dental care for seniors, the disabled, and those with limited access to traditional dental options. Co-owners Caidra Harris and Jennifer Belanger hope to improve access to oral health opportunities for area residents by offering preventative oral health services in a familiar and safe environment of the customer’s choosing.
“There is no such thing as a convenient time to visit the dentist’s office,” said Belanger. “Not only is it inconvenient, but the experience can be very stressful for some people. The mobile unit presents a more accessible model, allowing us to transport our portable dental equipment right to the client’s home, business, or facility. With this technology, we can go anywhere at any time. ”
Developed in response to the growing need for improved access to preventative oral health care services in communities around the nation and the world, the mobile service unit allows Belanger and Harris to drive to the customer, remove the dental equipment from the vehicle, and conveniently create a dental facility in the customer’s home or office. Belanger and Harris encourage their clients to think of the unit as a full-service dental office on wheels.
“It’s got all the bells and whistles you could imagine,” said Harris. “For those without access to a car or who are unable to sit comfortably in a dentist’s chair, we will literally deliver quality and convenient care where it is most comfortable for you.”
Belanger and Harris offer a range of services, including cleanings of dentures and partials, oral health screenings, oral cancer screenings, periodontal exams, cleanings, fluoride varnish treatments, application of sealants, temporary filling placements, and professional referrals.
“I don’t think people realize how infections in the mouth often lead to a variety of other health problems,” said Harris. “Studies have shown that regular dental cleanings reduce the risks associated with diabetes, heart disease, pneumonia, dry mouth, cancer, strokes and respiratory disease. Poor oral health often serves as a catalyst for a number of life-threatening diseases. We are here to prevent that from happening.”
After earning her Bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene from the University of New England, Harris began practicing with Dr. James P. Dunn in Auburn. There she met Belanger, who had earned her bachelor’s degree in Dental Hygiene from the University of Rhode Island.
“We immediately hit it off and started brainstorming about ways we could create our own business together,” said Harris.
After working together for nearly four years, Harris and Belanger saw their opportunity when the state began offering a license for an Independent Practice Dental Hygienist (IPDH).
“The IPDH license is really what created the opportunity for our business plan,” said Belanger. “We had talked for years about how great it would be to open a mobile dental hygiene service, but there simply was no way we could do it legally until the independent license certification became available.”
Harris and Belanger both received their IPDH license in October of 2012. Requiring years of experience, a written exam, referrals, and a personal interview with the nine-person Maine Dental Board, the license allows dental hygienists to practice independently without a dentist’s supervision. Maine is one of fewer than a dozen states that offers such a license.
“With more than 19 years of experience between us, we recognized through our day jobs that there was a market for providing dental services out in the field,” Harris added. “The obstacle was locating the proper financing and developing a support system to help make this happen.”
Harris and Belanger worked with the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council to receive consultation, marketing, and financial assistance.
Both natives of the area, Harris and Belanger felt Lewiston and Auburn offered the best opportunity for business growth while still working Monday through Wednesday in their current jobs.
“The basic premise is to provide service for those who do not have access to dental care two days a week and then on weekends as needed,” said Belanger. “We can provide services to schools, corporations, community groups, retirement communities, assisted living homes, skilled nursing facilities, senior housing communities, hospitals, health institutions, and even individuals inside their homes.”
Able to travel throughout the state offering low-cost dental care for those in need, the mobile service will treat anyone regardless of the time since their last dental visit.
“It is very rewarding to provide a service that not only improves a person’s oral health, but also their overall well-being,” said Harris. “Our goal is to minimize the inconvenience of seeing the dentist. At the end of the day, our whole business model is built around going the extra mile to save a smile.”
Healthy Maine Smiles, P.A. is open Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, call (207) 241-3313 or see www.healthymainesmiles.com.