By the University at Buffalo
To deliver crucial dental treatment to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, many of whom face immense barriers to oral health care, the University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine has partnered with Arc of Genesee Orleans to provide care to patients with disabilities in Western New York throughout the summer.
Provided through the UB “S-Miles To Go” dental program, the university has stationed a mobile dental unit at the Arc of Genesee Orleans Community Center in Batavia where UB staff, faculty and students will offer comprehensive oral health care, including cleanings, fillings and extractions, to Arc of Genesee Orleans staff and patients, as well as the broader WNY disability community.
The “S-Miles To Go” dental van is a 42-foot-long, three-chair dental clinic outfitted with digital X-ray equipment, a sterilization center and wheelchair lift. The program has served Western New York communities for over 20 years, providing more than 45,000 patient visits. Treatment that cannot be provided on the mobile dental unit will be delivered at the UB Dental clinic in Squire Hall on UB’s South Campus.
The services are supported through a $780,000 grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, an organization that enhances access to affordable, quality health care and addresses the unmet health care needs of communities across New York.
The program operates three days per week, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., at the Arc of Genesee Orleans Community Center, 38 Woodrow Road, Batavia. Treatment is provided by appointment only, and the program will run through July 9. To schedule a visit, patients and caregivers should call 716-803-3699.
“By stationing the mobile dental unit at a center of activity for persons with special needs, the School of Dental Medicine is helping eliminate a major barrier to care experienced by so many within the disability community,” says Stephen N. Abel, D.D.S., senior director of community and professional initiatives at the UB School of Dental Medicine.
The Rev. Monsignor Gregory Mustaciuolo, CEO of the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, says, “Good oral health is the gateway to good overall health, and one strategic focus of our foundation is to help improve dental care access and outcomes in underserved communities throughout New York state. This summer’s ‘S-Miles To Go’ program will provide a great opportunity for an affordable, accessible dentistry experience for the broader Western New York disability community.”
Filling Gaps in Dental Care
Patients with disabilities face numerous barriers to oral health care, including a lack of adequate coverage and reimbursement through Medicaid and other insurances, and a shortage of dentists trained to meet their needs, Abel says. Inadequate compensation for provider time leads some dentists to decline treating patients with disabilities, he notes. Those that do treat this population often have months-long waiting lists.
“Many patients with intellectual and developmental disabilities can be treated in a dental office; however, the Medicaid system and lack of training forces them into operating rooms with aggressive treatment plans,” says Paula Fischer, project coordinator of the Rural Dentistry Program in the UB School of Dental Medicine. “Dental caries is a preventable disease. We need to focus on prevention practices by training caregivers and patients.”
Barbara Hoffman, whose children have received treatment in the mobile dental van, says, “It’s so hard to find dentists. If you call the local dentist and say that my son happens to have autism or Down syndrome, they’ll say you have to go to a specialist. We used to have to go to Buffalo to Children’s Hospital and it’s over an hour drive. Once the clinic at Children’s closed right after the pandemic started, we didn’t know where to go.”
The “UB S-Miles To Go” program has trained dental students for years to provide care to patients with disabilities, with the aim that graduates will continue to treat and advocate for the disability community, Fischer says.