The clinic — supported by a $3.4 million state appropriation — is part of the UAB School of Dentistry’s innovative efforts to combat the shortage of dentists in rural areas of the state.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Dentistry has announced plans to bring a new satellite dentistry clinic to the Health Center South Medical Tower in Dothan, Alabama, to recruit, educate, train and retain dentists to help improve the dental health of those living in the Wiregrass region of the state.
The project is supported by a $3.4 million appropriation from the state of Alabama to develop this first-of-its-kind model to address the shortage of dental health providers in rural Alabama.
“We are looking forward to serving the residents of the Dothan community and surrounding region,” said Russell S. Taichman, DMD, dean of the UAB School of Dentistry. “Through this clinic, we hope to help alleviate some of the burden caused by the rural dentistry shortage across the state of Alabama. We are grateful for the help of our state and local leaders and our generous supporters as we work together to bring world-class dental care to this region.”
The clinic will have eight exam chairs and the capacity to conduct more than 10,000 patient visits annually. It will be staffed by UAB School of Dentistry faculty, residents and dental students. One of its aims will be to identify, recruit and prepare the next generation of dentists committed to practicing in rural Alabama.
The American Dental Association ranks Alabama 51st in the country for access to dental care, with 71 percent of Alabama’s counties experiencing a dental shortage. In Dothan, there are approximately 60 general dentists for nearly 500,000 people within a 50-mile radius.
“The partnership between the state and UAB shows the commitment to providing critical dental services to the residents of the Dothan area,” said Alabama state Senator Donnie Chesteen, who was instrumental in helping secure the state’s financial support of the project. “Dothan has 1.4 dentists for every 10,000 people, while the national average is 6.1. This new clinic will change that.”
“Through this clinic, we hope to help alleviate some of the burden caused by the rural dentistry shortage across the state of Alabama. We are grateful for the help of our state and local leaders and our generous supporters as we work together to bring world-class dental care to this region.”
– UAB School of Dentistry Dean Russell S. Taichman, DMD
University of Alabama System Chancellor Finis E. St. John IV says the state’s support of this project was critical to address the dental crisis in the state.
“We are grateful to the Alabama legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey for their support and their commitment to helping the University of Alabama System address our state’s rural health care needs,” St. John said. “It is our hope that the clinic will serve as a model and show that this innovative solution identified by UAB’s School of Dentistry could work for other areas of the state that suffer from similar shortages.”
At its Sept. 16, 2022, meeting, the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees unanimously approved plans to house the clinic — slated to open in the summer of 2023 following renovations to prepare the building for state-of-the-art dentistry services — in the Health Center South Medical Tower located at 2826 Ross Clark Circle in Dothan, owned and operated by Dr. Marnix E. Heersink and the Heersink family.
“We know that Marnix and Mary Heersink share UAB’s deep commitment to excellence, innovation and service to the people of Alabama,” said UAB President Ray L. Watts. “Health Center South was determined to be the ideal location for this clinic and those it serves, and I am appreciative of the Heersinks’ continued partnership and commitment to our shared goal of advancing health care in our state through this much needed endeavor.”
Health Center South already serves the health care needs of the Wiregrass, and its Medical Tower was explored among other options before its selection due to several factors, including location, existing health care infrastructure and ability to meet all of the requirements of a dentistry clinic.
“We appreciate that UAB has chosen to be in Dothan and that Health Center South is a good fit for this innovative clinic,” Heersink said. “We believe this clinic, along with its outstanding UAB staff, will fill a major need by providing increased access to dental care for those in our hometown and southeast Alabama.”
Heersink says UAB and the School of Dentistry have been instrumental in the lives of his family. His son Bayne Heersink graduated from the UAB School of Dentistry and completed a two-year UAB prosthodontic fellowship; he is now a dentist in Dothan at Foundations Dental Group, formerly Healthwest Dental Associates.
“This partnership between the UAB School of Dentistry and the Wiregrass is truly historic,” Bayne Heersink said. “I am thrilled about the care that this new location will provide for our region. The clinic will uphold the School of Dentistry’s reputation for excellent dental care and education and provide easier access to that care for the people of our area. It will also provide a vital experience and exposure for students in a rural setting because we desperately need more dentists in outlying communities across the country.”
The UAB School of Dentistry is the only dental school in the state and is consistently ranked among the top-funded schools for dental research. For more information about the UAB School of Dentistry, visit uab.edu/dentistry.