Collaborative partnership helps brush off dental fears for kids and adults with developmental disabilities

Alonzo Osche

Most people view a visit with the dentist as an understandable part of life that must be endured in order to maintain good oral health. But for those with developmental disabilities, a trip to the dentist can cause crippling anxiety making it challenging to provide the dental care they need.

To address this need, Maine Behavioral Healthcare’s Center of Excellence in Autism and Developmental Disorders and University of New England’s College of Dental Medicine (CDM) have collaborated to provide this care in a setting that works best for patients, families and dentists in training.

Dental care will be delivered under the supervision of a UNE faculty dentist in a dental clinic housed within the new Center, opening in Portland. The dedicated space is outfitted with all of the necessary fixed equipment needed for treatment.

Beginning with the fall semester, pairs of third-year CDM dental students will spend half a day at the Center with the potential to expand to a full day, depending on need, student scheduling and faculty availability. The dental students, under faculty supervision, will provide basic oral health care onsite to include oral hygiene instruction, examinations, cleanings, and fillings as appropriate for the patient.

The expert care providers at the Center will provide the communication, behavioral and educational support needed to help this population become comfortable and successful in receiving dental care.

“This is an incredibly exciting collaboration where we are breaking down the barriers between dental care and behavioral health to support the unique needs of our patients and help train the next generation of dentists in providing the best care for this underserved population,” said Matthew Siegel, M.D., vice president of Medical Affairs, Maine Behavioral Healthcare.

Albert Abena, D.D.S., J.D., assistant dean for Community Partnerships at UNE was instrumental in leading the collaboration for the college and stated: “This partnership will increase the level of clinical training of our dental students to provide care for children with special needs, increase the knowledge and ability of the Center’s staff to impact the oral health of their patients daily, and provide much-needed care for this population.”

“The UNE College of Dental Medicine was founded with a mission and passion to serve the underserved and address healthcare access in Maine and greater Northern New England. Access to oral healthcare can be very challenging for many individuals and is often a crisis for those with Autism and developmental disorders. We are excited to be able to partner with Maine Behavioral Healthcare and the Center of Excellence in Autism and Developmental Disorder. Training dental students in interprofessional teams to address complex and special needs patients will help them understand the barriers many patients face and prepare them to work effectively with other healthcare providers in the future,” said Jon Ryder, D.D.S., M.S., dean of UNE’s College of Dental Medicine.

With a common passion for improving access to quality health care, the partnership is a win-win for all.

“We are incredibly proud of the work that has gone into the Center of Excellence and very grateful to the outpouring of community support that has made this dream become a reality,” said Kelly Barton, president of Maine Behavioral Healthcare. “We are fortunate to be part of the MaineHealth system that recognized the need to invest in this project that will vastly improve care in this region for generations to come. Partnering with UNE is a wonderful way to expand upon our service offerings for this vulnerable population and I am so grateful to have their support to help us in our ongoing efforts to make our communities the healthiest in America.”

The dental clinic was made possible by gifts to the COE capital campaign from the Banks family of Raymond and the Delta Dental Foundation. The capital campaign is currently seeking additional donations that can be made by visiting MaineBehavioralHealthcare.org/DonateCOE.

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