A $250,000 grant from the Delta Dental Foundation will help UConn Health dramatically expand dental services for patients with special health care needs.

The three-year grant will enable the School of Dental Medicine to hire faculty, provide training, offset dental costs and offer more flexible hours, including weekends, to treat patients.

The grant aims to help patients with special health care needs, including developmental disabilities, autism and patients with acquired disabilities, such as traumatic brain injury or Parkinson’s disease.

“One of the barriers these patients face is being able to take time off work to take family members or caregivers to the dentist,” said Steven Lepowski, dean of UConn’s School of Dental Medicine.

To address this, the school will host special care days on weekends starting this summer to provide more flexible times for appointments.

“This will expand our capacity and have a significant impact on the amount of care we provide and help address issues of access to care,” Lepowski said.

As a result, UConn Health estimates it will be able to provide an additional 900 outpatient visits, 72 additional operating room procedures and up to 300 more visits on weekend specialty care days.

The Delta Dental grant will help offset the cost of hiring additional faculty trained and experienced in the management of special needs patients. New faculty members will develop educational content to prepare students and residents to treat patients with special health care needs. They will also develop continuing education courses to benefit dentists practicing in Connecticut.

“This will expand our educational programming so that we are helping to create a more confident workforce to meet the needs of patients with special needs,” Lepowski said.

The School of Dental Medicine already provides more services to patients with special health care needs than anywhere else in the state, Lepowski said. The school partners with the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services and Special Olympics Connecticut to host free dental screenings for athletes at Special Olympics events.

While hosting these “Special Smile” days, the faculty, students and dental residents who conduct them have noticed that some athletes do not follow the recommended dental treatments. To address this, the grant will enable the school to partner with Special Olympics to implement a robust tracking and referral program to ensure follow-up appointments for patients.

“We hope this program will improve the oral and overall health of those with special health care needs,” said Caryl Russo, Ph.D., president of the Delta Dental Foundation. “Oral health care is holistic health care. People with developmental disabilities often face a myriad of systemic health conditions, and addressing their oral health care needs can lead to better overall health outcomes, leading to a better quality of life. Providing this type of specialized care It can be incredibly difficult to find practitioners who can, and the UConn Health Special Care Dentistry program is filling that void.”

The grant will increase the pool of funds available to assist families with financial challenges. This would allow the school to provide dental care on a sliding scale or even waive the fee.

“This program is important because, in addition to providing essential dental treatment, it provides peace of mind to patients and their loved ones,” Russo said. “Life is stressful, especially when you have a loved one with special health care needs. This program will hopefully relieve some of that stress and improve the oral health of thousands of patients who might otherwise go without dental care before the problems become more dire and complex. can solve.”

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