NORTHFIELD — Leonard Giordano, 26, of Freehold, is in his last year at the Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in Newark.
And he is spending that year in Northfield, treating patients at the John H. Cronin Dental Clinic, run in partnership with Atlantic County government.
For nearly 25 years, area residents in need of dental services have been able to use the clinic, which accepts private insurance and Medicaid. There is also a sliding-fee scale based on income for people without insurance.
“Not many dentists take Medicare or Medicaid,” said Linda Stowe, manager of the clinic. “We can do this because we are a teaching institution.”
The clinic opened in 1992 and a second, smaller clinic in Galloway Township opened in 2004. There is also a clinic in Somerdale and one at the Dental School in Newark.
The Northfield clinic has eight chairs with five full-time students who work there for a full academic year. Three more students rotate in every two weeks. The site has five dental assistants and two office staff members as well as three practicing faculty dentists who oversee the students. The Galloway site has six chairs.
There are also specialists, including an oral surgeon and a periodontist.
“It is run just like a private practice,” Stowe said.
The dentists and students at Northfield see about 500 people a month. The county provides the clinic space, which is connected to the back of the Meadowview Nursing Home on Dolphin Avenue. The clinic also serves Meadowview residents.
The Northfield site just had a $1 million renovation that includes a new digital x-ray machine so students can train on the latest equipment. The county paid to spruce up the building.
Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson said the county lobbied to get the clinic because it is seen as an asset for residents. It is named for a former health department director.
“We are providing a safety net that is greatly needed,” he said. “There are thousands of people in the county who have lost jobs, and this is one way county government can help.”
Dr. Karen Rodin, one of the three teaching dentists along with Christine Stinton and Kevin Carey, said each of the five year-long dental students gets a “family” of patients for their year.
Rodin said having students work on residents of Meadowview also gives them experience with medically fragile patients whose medical needs can affect their dental care.
Giordano, who plans to join a private practice, said he wanted real-world experience.
“This is more like a full-time job,” he said. “You see more patients every day, and it builds up your stamina. Here we have a dental assistant. We also learn about time management and coordinating with the front desk. You have to work as a team.”
He typically sees four to five patients a day, still below the 10 to 15 he might see in private practice.
Giordano said that when he was young he had an orthodontist he really liked, which got him interested in dentistry.
“I really enjoyed going there,” he said. “They were like a family, and I liked that.”