“Everyone deserves to have access to quality dental care,” said Joan O’Shea, a member of the board at Penn Dental Medicine who gave the school $250,000 to help make the project possible.
According to the school, going to the dentist can be difficult for the 61 million Americans who have disabilities. Challenges include accessibility, finding care, and geographic proximity. Patients with hearing impediments, cognitive impairments, physical challenges, and age or disease-related difficulties need dentists and spaces designed for them, the school said.
“I was particularly impressed by the innovative spirit that the Penn Dental team brought to this project,” continued O’Shea, who also is the founder of the Spine Institute of Southern New Jersey and the mother of a daughter with special needs.
Located in the school’s Robert Schattner Center, the Personalized Care Suite is the clinical care portion of the 3,500-square-foot Care Center that provides preventive and interceptive oral healthcare for patients of all ages living with a physical or intellectual disability.
Featuring 12 dental operatories, the suite is outfitted to comfortably treat patients in wheelchairs and on gurneys, Penn Dental said. It includes a quiet room with low lighting and sound baffling for patients with sensory sensitivities.
“We are thrilled that this new care center has opened and that construction was able to proceed on schedule through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Penn Dental Medicine Morton Amsterdam Dean Dr. Mark S. Wolff.
Students at Penn Dental Medicine now have the added benefit of gaining training to handle the unique needs of patients with disabilities through direct experience on site.
“A key goal of the center is to educate students as well as practicing clinicians, teachers, nurses, and caregivers on how preventive practices and teamwork can improve the quality of life for both people with disabilities and their families,” said Wolff.
“We will develop and report on best practices for serving this population and advance pedagogy for teaching the next generation of students to manage patients with a wide range of issues that limit their independence,” Wolff said.
The center also will be a hub for research with the Colgate-Palmolive Innovation Laboratory, where Colgate experts will work with faculty and students to assess needs and develop and refine new products that facilitate optimal dental care for patients with disabilities.
Further, the school has named Dr. Miriam R. Robbins director of the center and Dr. Alicia Risner-Bauman its associate director, effective in February and January, respectively.
“We are thrilled to have Drs. Robbins and Risner-Bauman joining Penn Dental Medicine,” said Wolff. “They both share our service and educational vision for the Care Center for Persons with Disabilities and bring a depth of experience as clinicians and educators that will greatly support our patients and students.”
Robbins comes to Penn Dental Medicine from New York University Langone-Long Island, where she has been chair of the Department of Dental Medicine since 2015. She also has been chair of the Department of Family Medicine at NYU Long Island School of Medicine.
From 2002 to 2015, Robbins was director of the NYU College of Dentistry Special Needs Clinic as well. She also has been president of the Special Care Dentistry Association and a Diplomat of the American Board of Special Care Dentistry.
Most recently, Risner-Bauman served as a general dentist in the Department of Surgery of Binghamton General Hospital and dental clinic supervisor of Broome Dental Center within the New York State Office for People with Developmental Disabilities.
Risner-Bauman also is a Diplomate of the American Board of Special Care Dentistry and has completed a fellowship with the Academy of Dentistry for Persons with Disabilities, American Board Special Care Dentistry.
As associate director, Risner-Bauman will serve as a clinical faculty member within the center and work closely with Robbins to help manage its personnel, faculty, students, and patients. Both will have joint faculty appointments with the Department of Oral Medicine and Department of Preventive and Restorative Sciences.
The Care Center for Persons with Disabilities is a priority of the Power of Penn Dental Medicine Campaign, which is fueling the school’s mission to create gateways to quality oral health for all through accessible dental care, the school said.