MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities is graduating its first class of seven students who will be licensed to perform basic dental work normally done by a dentist.

The university’s program is the first of its kind in the nation.

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“They can do a filling. They can do certain types of crowns. They can do initial assessments on patients” said Ann Leja, Interim Dean at the school’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences.

WCCO’s Bruce Hagevik Interviews Ann Leja

These dental practitioners will serve areas where dentists are in short supply.

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“So they’ll be working in places where people don’t have access or are under-served,” said Leja.

Studies show oral health care is one of the greatest unmet health needs in the nation.

The Minnesota Department of Health says about one third of the 3,000 practicing dentists in the state are 55 or older, and the number entering the profession is not keeping up with the number who are retiring.

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The 2009 Minnesota legislature authorized creation of the new category of dental practitioner.