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When she arrived Tuesday at the clinic operated by Tel Aviv University's School of Dental Medicine, Leah, a Bnei Brak resident who frequently accompanies her grandchildren there for free treatments, found out the clinic was in danger of imminent closure.
"I usually come with six or seven different grandchildren at once," she told The Jerusalem Post. "Before we knew about this place, they wouldn't see a dentist unless they had a serious cavity or an infection, and then the tooth would be pulled out and that would be it."
The closing of the clinic, which serves hundreds of needy families, is one of the potential consequences of what students and teachers at the school fear is the impending closure of the school.
Three years ago, Tel Aviv University stopped registration for its dentistry school, which students enter during their third year in medical school. As a result, no new students are currently scheduled to begin dentistry studies next year.
This week, dentistry teachers and students at the TAU launched an emergency committee to fight the closing of the school, which they warn would lead to an exodus of Israeli dental students to financially affordable schools in Eastern Europe. This, they argue, would in turn result in a decrease in the quality of Israeli dentists and a dramatic increase in the cost of dental care as Israeli-trained doctors raise their prices. The closing of the School of Dental Medicine at TAU would leave Israel with only one dental school, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Earlier this week, the emergency committee appealed to new Education Minister Yuli Tamir to intervene immediately in order to prevent the school's closing.
According to a ministry spokesperson, Tamir has scheduled an urgent meeting on the subject with members of the Planning and Budgeting Committee and representatives of Tel Aviv University to examine possible solutions.
Prof. Israel Kaffe, a former head of TAU's dental school and currently a teacher there, told the Post that he was worried about the effect that the school's closing would have on public health in Israel.
"There have been several cases of European countries, such as the Netherlands, that closed down dental schools in recent years, and they are now forced to import dentists from other countries," Kaffe said.
The reason that the school has borne the brunt of university budget cuts, Kaffe said, was the high cost of training dental students, which reaches approximately NIS 150,000 during their years of clinical training.
In addition, he noted, graduate students from the program who in the past had gone on to specialize at the school's clinic would now have difficulty in pursuing a specialty.
One such student is Tali Shani, who is completing her sixth year of dental studies at TAU this year.
"The budget cuts the school has suffered over recent years have meant that the quality of teaching keeps deteriorating, because there are fewer and fewer class hours," she said.
Shani said she was currently at a loss as to how to pursue her professional plans.
If she was not accepted to one of the specialization programs at Hebrew University, she said, she would either have to study abroad or give up her dream of becoming a specialist.
In response to the steps taken by the dental school's staff and students, Tel Aviv University announced it would welcome the assistance of the Education Ministry in finding a way to help the school with its budget. The university also said it was currently negotiating with a number of possible strategic partners for running the school.
According to the university, dental students trained in Israel currently make up a third of the country's dentists. The university acknowledged the national need for training dentists in Israel and said it demanded that the government increase the budget allotted for dental studies, either by supplying additional funds or by raising tuition fees.
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