Female dentist and dental assistant care for a patient in a wheelchair at PDMs Personalized Care suite. According to surveys, nearly half of adults in the U.S. don’t visit the dentist as often as they should—or at all. Anxiety, cost concerns, and the perception that dental care is unnecessary, top the list of reasons people avoid the dental chair. But, for some people, not seeing a dentist isn’t something they have much control over. 

For the more than 61 million Americans living with a disability, regular dental care can be challenging, if not impossible. Finding a dentist for disabled adults is not always easy. And, not all dental practices can accommodate special health challenges. Despite being qualified and experienced in routine dentistry, not all dentists have the specialized skills necessary to work with special needs patients.  

Penn Dental Medicine aims to change this with the opening of the Care Center for Persons with Disabilities. Led by Dr. Miriam Robbins and Dr. Alicia Risner-Bauman, the Care Center focuses on treatment for people with cognitive, developmental, or physical disabilities who may otherwise face challenges finding a dental team willing and able to meet their needs.

And, to ensure that this underserved population can receive care outside of Philadelphia, all dental residents within the School of Dental Medicine will complete training to improve their confidence and competence in working with individuals living with disabilities. 

 How PDM is Preparing Dentists to Care for Disabled Adults  

Young woman with Down Syndrome touches her cheek indicating a toothache and needs to see a dentist.Among the cornerstones of the Care Center is the Personalized Care Suite for Persons with Disabilities, and the Advanced Education in General Dentistry (AEGD) program, led by Dr. Marc Henschel. Dr. Henschel, who came to PDM from New York University (NYU) with over three decades of experience in dentistry, including several years as the Director of the Special Patient Care Clinic at NYU, is committed to improving access and breaking down the barriers to dental care for people with specialized healthcare needs. 

“Working with patients with specialized healthcare needs is challenging on multiple levels,” Dr. Henschel says, noting that dentists work in a very intimate area and it is vital to get to know patients before their appointments to better understand their conditions and needs. Disabilities can manifest in many ways, both visible and invisible.   An example of an invisible disability was working with a patient living with PTSD after a brutal attack in a city park. “Simply touching this person in a greeting could cause them to close down.” 

 In the case of PTSD, he says, “We need to get to know the patient and what causes triggers, and avoid them.”  Dental patients with disAbilities face multiple challenges. Dr. Henschel says that the AEGD program will provide advanced training and create  an innovative opportunity for residents to work in several areas with underserved populations. This training includes spending time in the Personalized Care Suite for Persons with disAbilities, working in PDM’s clinic for Survivors of Torture and  4 community health dental clinics.  

“Most dentists feel that they do not  have the abilities or tools to treat patients with disAbilities, even though they are trained in routine general dentistry,” Dr. Henschel says. “This Center affords a fantastic opportunity not only for patients to get the care they so deserve but also for our  residents and students to work in a premiere state of the art facility.” 

What to Expect in the Personalized Care Suite for Persons with Disabilities 

Dentist for disabled adults in full PPE examines the teeth of a young woman in the office.In addition to accessing care from dentists for adults with disabilities, patients and their caregivers can expect additional accommodations at the dental clinic. These include:

  • Detailed pre-screening before the first dental visit to determine the scope of services needed.
  • Pre-appointment discussions with the patient and/or caregiver to go over the patient’s medical history and determine which accommodations are necessary. 
  • Access to a private, spacious treatment area that can accommodate patients with physical disabilities that require wheelchairs, stretchers, gurneys, and mobility aids like scooters.
  • A quiet room with carpeted floors, low-lighting, and dedicated access for patients with sensory disabilities. 
  • Access to a wheelchair lift room that allows a wheelchair to safely recline, allowing a dentist to work without the patient having to transfer.
  • The opportunity to be a part of dental innovations, thanks to the embedded Colgate-Palmolive Innovation Laboratory, where Colgate experts work with PDM’s dentist for disabled adults to develop and refine new products that support optimal dental care.

Get the Care You Deserve at Penn Dental Medicine’s Care Suite for Persons With Disabilities 

If you have been putting off necessary dental care because of a disability, are the caregiver for a person with health challenges that keep them from getting dental treatment, or have concerns about the cost of quality dental care, download our complimentary eBook, “Dental Work Without the Stress.”  With detailed information about common dental conditions and treatment options, this eBook shows why Penn Dental Medicine is the right choice for your entire family, and the affordable treatment you can expect. 

Or, if you are looking for a dentist for adults with specialized healthcare needs, you can learn more about the Personalized Care Suite or make an appointment by calling 215-898-8180.

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