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October 06, 2015

Grant will help dentists treat patients with special needs

The Eastman Institute for Oral Health has been awarded a $3.5 million grant for an innovative educational initiative—a major step in reducing the health disparities among people with special needs.

Funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the five-year program will train more than 100 pediatric and general dentists, plus numerous hygienists, dental assistants, and other staff in treating the unmet oral health needs of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and other conditions such as type I diabetes, congenital heart defects, cystic fibrosis, and muscular dystrophy.

Advances in medicine have led to increases in life expectancy for patients with childhood congenital or acquired diseases. The current system is unequipped to provide high-quality dental care for the growing population of patients as they enter adulthood.

Lack of access is the biggest barrier for the underserved communities, primarily because 75 percent of dentists do not treat patients with Medicaid, nor do they have adequate training or facilities.

Led by Sean McLaren, interim chair of pediatric dentistry, the program provides four different options for postdoctoral training. Similar to medical residents who can specialize in internal medicine and pediatrics, pediatric and advanced general dentistry residents can now, for the first time, achieve proficiency in treating patients with special health care needs from birth through advanced age.

The training will take place at UR Medicine’s new Center for Adults with Special Health Care Needs and the Eastman Institute for Oral Health, beginning in July 2016.

The grant is another step the institute has taken to further reduce the health disparities experienced by individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The Golisano Foundation and the institute formed a task force in 2012 to identify gaps and barriers that explain why dental care is the number one unmet health care need. Among the recommendations were to increase the number of providers and their skills when treating patients with special needs.

“Eastman Institute for Oral Health is committed to helping patients with special needs through direct treatment, wide-ranging support, and by educating current and future providers,” says Eli Eliav, director of institute.

In addition, the institute is building a new SMILEmobile outfitted with a wheelchair mount capable of traveling to group homes or community meeting places to maximize access for patients.

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