This month, a $1.2 million dental clinic will open in Maplewood, offering dental exams and filling cavities for patients who have little or no money.

While dentists will be on hand to supervise, they won't be the ones providing care.

It's a teaching clinic, built by Metropolitan State University (with donated money). It's the first clinic in the nation built especially for a new type of health professional, Advanced Dental Therapists.

More than two years ago, the Minnesota Legislature voted to allow dental therapists to provide some care that was previously limited to dentists; the goal was to expand access to poor and under-served populations.

Now, nine students or graduates -- all licensed hygienists even before they started their advanced training -- will have a clinic of their own to get their required 2,000 hours of clinical experience.

"What makes this especially unique," said Ann Leja, acting dean of health sciences at Metro State, is that "it's situated in a place to serve the people in the community."

Most training clinics are on college campuses, she said, but this one was built right across from Maplewood Mall, on a bus line to make access easy.

"We want it to be embedded in the community where we're going to get our patients," Leja said.

Patients will pay on a sliding scale. The work may "take a little longer," Leja says, because every step will be checked by faculty members, all trained dentists. But when they finish their training, the Advanced Dental Therapists will be able to practice on their own, as long as they have a collaborative agreement with a licensed dentist.

"We're the only program in the nation," Leja said, but there's "lots of interest" in the idea.

Leja says the "state-of-the-art" clinic, at 1670 Beam Av., Suite 203 , was funded by grants from Henry Shein, a large medical and dental supply firm; Delta Dental; and other donors. The first open house is Oct. 20; opening day should follow soon after.