The opening of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine’s (TUSDM) new clinic in Worcester, MA,—one of eight TUSDM dental clinics in the state that provides comprehensive oral health care for more than 7,000 individuals with disabilities—addresses a significant community need.
In a 2012 study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association, Tufts’ researchers found that people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are more likely to have poor oral health—including gum disease, untreated tooth decay and missing teeth—than the general population.
The study also found that a significant proportion of this population poses unique treatment challenges because they require specialized services, such as general anesthesia or behavioral assistance, that are unavailable in many dental offices.
“The important work of the Tufts Dental Facilities reflects the School of Dental Medicine’s commitment to ensuring that diverse communities have access to excellent oral health care,” says Huw F. Thomas, B.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., Dean of TUSDM and Professor of Pediatric Dentistry. “The new clinic in Worcester will provide vital services for people with disabilities in Central Massachusetts and offer our faculty, staff and students opportunities to promote and protect the oral health of vulnerable populations.”
Of the eight clinics opened by Tufts, seven involve a contractual partnership with the commonwealth’s Department of Developmental Services (DDS) and Department of Public Health (DPH). The Tufts’ program—the largest of its kind—is recognized by the Association of State & Territorial Dental Directors as a national model.
“Thanks to the collaboration between DDS, DPH, Seven Hills Foundation and Tufts, a new dental clinic specially designed to serve individuals with intellectual disabilities in Central Massachusetts has become a reality,” says Elin Howe, commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services. “The clinic continues the long successful partnership between the Patrick Administration and Tufts Dental School to provide quality dental services to individuals with developmental disabilities, as well as people with acquired disabilities.”
The Tufts clinics also train and increase the awareness of the oral health needs of people with disabilities. All Tufts fourth-year dental students are required to participate in a one-week rotation through one of the clinics. The School’s General Practice Residency Program also includes training in the oral health care of special needs patients and provides post-graduate students with clinical experience treating people with disabilities under the guidance and supervision of experienced faculty members trained in special care dentistry.
Two dentists, three dental hygienists and one dental assistant—all with specialized training in caring for people with special needs—are on staff at the new clinic, as well as two front desk personnel. The new clinic has four treatment chairs, and treatment will include examinations, preventive and restorative dentistry, periodontal care, endodontics, prosthetic dentistry and tooth extraction.
The new Worcester clinic is located at 150 Goddard Memorial Drive in the Seven Hills Foundation’s ASPiRE! center, which provides workforce readiness, employment and day habilitation services for people with disabilities.