URMC opens dental clinic designed for people with disabilities

Oct 18, 2019

The Eastman Institute for Oral Health at the University of Rochester has opened a new clinic designed to serve people with disabilities and complex health issues. 

Wayne Lipschitz, who recently started a new job as the clinic’s director, said typical dentists’ offices are not designed for people with disabilities, and dentists themselves often are not trained to treat them.

Pam Boothe, a dental assistant, demonstrates a device that allows patients who use wheelchairs to stay in their chairs as they lean back for dental work.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

That results in people staying away from the dentist and postponing or avoiding an important part of their health care, Lipschitz said.

The new clinic is built to accommodate wheelchairs. “Slightly wider spaces, always. Doorways, hallways -- everything,” said Lipschitz.

The exam rooms also have new equipment, like a device that lets patients who use wheelchairs stay in their chairs while they lean back for the dentist.

Pam Boothe, a dental assistant at Eastman, said that’s often important, both for the patients’ comfort and for dentists’ ability to see and reach inside the mouth.

Monroe County Public Health Commissioner Michael Mendoza watches as staff demonstrate equipment at a new dental clinic at the University of Rochester Medical Center on Friday.
Credit Brett Dahlberg / WXXI News

“Trying to treat a patient when they’re sitting in an upright position is extremely difficult,” Booth said. “When we do root canals, extractions, we want to be able to look right directly into that area.”

The approach is proving popular. Eli Eliav, the Eastman Institute’s director, said the clinic is already booked for months.

URMC officials said the process of figuring out what equipment and training was necessary for the clinic was a process of trial and error.

Now that the clinic is open, the center will start gathering data on things like patient satisfaction and how long their treatments last. The university said it wants to figure out the best way of getting dental care to people who have often found it difficult to access, and to build a model for other institutions.

This story is reported from WXXI’s Inclusion Desk.