Bulletin of Dental Education

Prioritizing Special Care Patients With New Texas A&M University School of Dentistry Clinic

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Texas A&M University School of Dentistry leads the way to open first special care clinic in the Southwest

The dental needs of special care patients—those with physical, medical, developmental and cognitive conditions—have long been overlooked, but Dan Burch, D.D.S., M.A., at Texas A&M University School of Dentistry is working to ensure those patients and their families are now prioritized.

Dr. Burch is leading the new Compromised Care and Hospital Dentistry Fellowship at the school of dentistry, and the recent commitment of The Crystal Charity Ball—a nonprofit established in 1952 to aid children’s charities in Dallas County—ensures a special care clinic can be opened at the school in 2023.   

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Dan Burch, D.D.S., M.A.

The Crystal Charity Ball committed to working alongside the dental school in 2022 to raise $1.6 million for the clinic. A generous donation from the Hillcrest Foundation will join these funds to help the program in its goal to become self-sustaining in three years and exceed 6,000 annual patient visits.

Patients will receive specialized care at the clinic. Plus, dental and dental hygiene students will receive 100 hours of hands-on clinical experience caring for these special pediatric patients. At least 230 dental students, 60 dental hygiene students and 40 dental residents will be trained every year, experience that is not offered by most dental schools.

Dr. Burch sees the clinic’s growth as an opportunity for the school of dentistry to distinguish itself from its peers.

“I’d like us to be known not only as the program that set the national standard for special care dentistry, but also the premier training program in the country,” he said.  

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Dr. Burch first realized the needs of special care patients during his pediatric dental residency at Howard University in Washington, DC, and a new patient visit in a Fort Worth private practice clinic in 2017 confirmed his concerns for the underserved population.

“A patient had cerebral palsy and had to be treated in her wheelchair, but no private practices would do it,” he said. “Her mother was crying because she had been bouncing around dental offices for 10 years trying to find someone to clean her daughter’s teeth. I cleaned them and realized at that moment that it was our dental school’s responsibility to educate students on special care patients as a safety net for the Dallas-Fort Worth area.”

In 2018, Dr. Burch rallied support from Texas A&M’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry and the school’s dean before securing a grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration to start the Compromised Care and Hospital Dentistry Fellowship in 2020. It currently has two fellows, treating patients at Dallas hospitals, and it has led to an increase in access to care for more than 15,000 patients with special needs.

Dr. Burch recently secured additional funding to expand the fellowship from two to four fellows, allow the pediatric department to hone its curriculum as it relates to special needs care and allow predoctoral dental students to go to community clinics to observe and treat special needs patients until the dental school’s clinic opens.

“We have to have these programs in dental schools,” Burch said. “The more patients dental students see, regardless of the conditions they are treating, the more comfortable they are. My goal has been to infuse the special care dentistry curriculum in the school and make it as robust as possible with the hope that students will graduate fully prepared to see patients with special needs.”

Dr. Burch received the 2022 Health Equity Hero Award from DentaQuest, one of the largest providers of Medicaid dental benefits, for his efforts to teach the next generation of dentists who care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. 

Courtesy of Texas A&M School of Dentistry

Published on January 11, 2023

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