Dental clinic struggles to keep up with demand

The Portland State University Dental Clinic at the Center for Student Health and Counseling has replaced the much complained about Willamette Dental Service in September, but the long waiting list for appointments has students wondering if the services are an improvement.

Bradley Messer, a senior, tried to make an appointment a week before winter term and was told the term was already completely booked. He was put on the waiting list and was seen during an opening.

"I’m OK with it. I’m probably paying as much as anyone else," he said. "I think it’s a pretty good opportunity, they’re just way overbooked."

There are two reasons for the clinic’s few appointment openings, according to Franz. The clinic does not make appointments for next term because they do not know if a student will be eligible for service and the clinic has only four dentists on staff.

According to Leslie Culligan, the facility manager, they see 30-35 students a day. Four dentists on staff just are not enough to meet student demand.

The increase in student demand for dental service has the dental clinic working on expanding their services, according to Franz. In order to meet student demand, the clinic will soon have extended hours evenings and Saturdays, as well as added hygienist hours.

Despite the difficulty in getting an appointment, the new clinic has not racked up the kind of student complaints that Willamette Dental received.

Sandy Franz, associate director of the Center for Student Health and Counseling, said there were numerous complaints in the access and quality of care Willamette Dental offered, some which dealt with treatment that would not be finished in three months.

The Portland State dental clinic lacks the specialty dentist that Willamette Dental had, meaning that they cannot offer services like extracting impacted wisdom teeth or doing root canals. For more advanced care the clinic must send students to other clinics, according to Franz.

"I was able to visit the center within a month of making an appointment; at Willamette Dental I had to wait for months," said Gina Watkins, a graduate student, who said she uses the Portland State dental clinic because she has nowhere else to go.

"It sucks, but I’m in school and I don’t have a job that has benefits," she said.

And compared to Willamette Dental, not only does she have a shorter wait, but the service is better, she said. Her one criticism is that it would be better if they had a larger staff to accomodate more people.

Nichole Guilfoy, vice president of the Student Health Advisory Board, said the clinic’s current problem in serving students in a timely manner is due to its relative newness on campus.

Guilfoy said that many students are unaware that PSU has a dental clinic, but the clinic was hesitant to advertise because it wasn’t prepared to handle the students. "We regarded last term as a bit of a dry-run," she said.

Now with its plans for expansion, the dental clinic hopes to ease problems students have had making appointments.

"We’re doing the best we can," Franz said.