ATLANTA – Targeting minority students and patients, a new school intends to train Georgia dentists on teeth straightening.

New Jersey-based Meadowlands Hospital Medical Center is sponsoring the launch of the Georgia School of Orthodontics, which hopes to begin class next fall with 18 students once it receives accreditation.

The state’s only medical school, the Dental College of Georgia at Augusta University, offers orthodontic training, graduating three students per year. But that means many of its yearly class of 130 dental graduates are locked out of the opportunity to pursue the specialty without leaving the state.

With an estimated 400 of the nation’s 9,500 orthodontists retiring yearly, organizers of the new school figure there’s plenty of demand. The state has around 240 orthodontists, with about half of them in metro Atlanta.

“We felt there is an unmet need,” said Dr. Pramod Sinha, program director for the new school.

The school will be in Atlanta, with satellite clinics around town for students to gain experience providing discounted treatment to low-income patients.

“One of our goals is to provide service to a group that finds it unaffordable,” Sinha said, adding that “everyone deserves a smile.”

Since the number of minority dentists is less than 5 percent, concentrating on turning more of them into orthodontists would be difficult, admits Dr. Randy Kluender, chairman of the Dental Board at Meadowlands. Unless there are more blacks going to dental school, there can’t be more black orthodontists.

“You start to groom them as patients,” he said.

That’s another reason for the clinics besides giving students practical experience. Children benefiting from even teeth get exposed to the profession.

Augusta University hasn’t had any contact with the Meadowlands organizers yet and weren’t familiar with the initiative, according to Danielle Harris, AU spokeswoman. That doesn’t mean collaboration could never occur, she said.

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