URMC developing dental clinic for underserved populations

May 10, 2019

A new dental clinic is under development at the University of Rochester Medical Center. It’s designed to support people who might have a hard time getting service in most other dentists’ offices.

“The support comes in two parts,” said Dr. Eli Eliav, director of URMC’s Eastman Institute for Oral Health. “Equipment and staff.”

New chairs in a clinic under development at the University of Rochester Medical Center's oral health institute are designed to allow better dental care and more comfortable visits for people with special medical conditions.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

Eliav said the rooms are bigger, which makes them more accessible to patients with disabilities. The Specialty Care Clinic, as UR administrators are calling it, will serve patients with special medical conditions. Those may include physical and intellectual disabilities, as well as patients who have recently undergone cancer treatment or have other specific medical needs.

“This group of patients often requires longer treatment, more complicated treatment,” Eliav said.

That’s why UR will staff the clinic with specialized medical professionals.

“Not all solutions are written in a book. We need the interdisciplinary approach,” said Eliav.

People with cerebral palsy, for example, might have low muscle tone and could have a hard time keeping their mouths open for a long time, he said. “If someone like that needs surgery, there’s some complexity in the general anesthesia. We know how to do that.”

Another example Eliav gave: patients with autism who are not comfortable with the dentist’s office.

“The first visit, they will come just to get used to the space,” Eliav said. “We’ll show them what we’re going to and create a relationship.

“The second visit, we’ll show them the equipment we’re going to use. The third visit, we’ll try to do some exams. We have that pattern.”

Eliav said there’s a growing need for this kind of dentistry. “In this country in particular, dental care tends to be separated from medical care.”

That results in particularly harmful outcomes for some people with disabilities, he said, where a lack of motor skills or communication can prevent adequate dental care. “Anything that happens in the oral cavity affects the body, and vice versa.”

Eliav said that’s why he anticipates demand for the new clinic to be high.

“The problem I’m sure we’ll have soon is that the clinic will be completely booked,” he said. “Is this clinic going to solve all the problems? No. But hopefully we’ll be able to help a little bit more.”

The clinic is partially funded by a $500,000 donation of equipment and technology from the Henry Schein Cares Foundation. "We are delighted to support Eastman," a spokesperson for the organization said in an email. "Most importantly in this case to enhance access to care for special needs patients with high quality dentistry."

The University of Rochester said the clinic is set to open by this fall.

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk