Robbins Earns AAOM’s Highest Honor for a Career Spent in Service

Richard Gawel


The American Academy of Oral Medicine (AAOM) has recognized Dr. Miriam Robbins, professor of clinical oral medicine and restorative dentistry at Penn Dental Medicine, with its highest honor, the Craig S. Miller Diamond Pin Award.

Robbins, who also is director of Penn Dental Medicine’s Care Center for Persons with Disabilities, has been active with the Academy since her residency in 1989. She also has served on a number of the organization’s committees and in various leadership roles, including its presidency in 2017 and 2018.

We recently spoke with Robbins about the importance of her work with the AAOM and at Penn Dental.

Q: How does it feel to achieve this recognition?

A: I am truly honored to receive this recognition from my peers and to be placed among the distinguished ranks of the past honorees that I have long admired and respected. As the saying goes, it takes a village, and I am profoundly grateful for the members of my oral medicine village for all the professional collegiality and personal friendship over the years.

I am especially proud to be the first recipient for the newly named Craig S. Miller Diamond Pin Award. Not only has Dr. Miller made major contributions to the science of oral medicine, but he has been one of the driving forces responsible for oral medicine recently being designated as the eleventh dental specialty recognized by the National Commission on Recognition of Dental Specialties and Certifying Boards.

Q: What makes the integration of medicine and dentistry so important?

A: It is important to reconnect the mouth with the rest of the body. Advances in medicine have resulted in increased longevity, with more comorbidities, accompanied by a polypharmacy of for many patients. The increase in medical complexity, increased lifespan, and medication use frequently has a direct effect on oral health, and vice versa.

In 2000, the Surgeon General’s report, “Oral Health in America,” stated that oral health is essential to general health. Oral health is directly related to systemic health in all individuals, but particularly in older adults. With the aging of the population, these is increased need for whole person, integrated, patient-centered comprehensive care.

Oral medicine is defined by the American Academy of Oral Medicine as the discipline of dentistry concerned with the diagnosis and management of medical conditions that affect the oral and maxillofacial region such as oral mucosal disease, orofacial pain, salivary gland disorders, and oral manifestations of systemic diseases, as well as providing primary dental care for those with complex medical issues that require long-term management and/or modifications in the delivery of oral health because of underlying medical issues.

AAOM has the vision of integrating medicine and dentistry to promote optimal health and helping to produce practitioners who are capable of caring for an increasingly diverse and medically complex population.

Q: What makes the work of Penn’s Care Center for Persons with Disabilities so important?

Oral health continues to be an important health issue for the nearly 61 million adults in the United States living with a disability due to difficulty in accessing dental care. This is especially true for patients with developmental or intellectual disabilities. One of the great barriers continues to be finding oral healthcare practitioners with the skills, experience, or capacity to care for people with disabilities.

I am honored to be part of a new initiative here at Penn Dental Medicine aimed at training our dental students to become competent in the delivery of high-quality oral healthcare to this underserved population. The implementation of the Care Center for Persons with Disabilities was a priority for dean Mark S. Wolff, who was committed to developing an educational experience for the dental students that included a comprehensive approach to caring for a broad patient population with disabilities based on evidence-based preventive and management programs.

There will certainly not be a lack of patients in need of care for students at Penn Dental Medicine to treat in the Personalized Care Center at the Care Center for Persons with Disabilities, a state of the art 12-chair facility designed to accommodate patients with a variety of medical, physical, psychological, and cognitive conditions.

According to the latest data from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 16% of all Philadelphians, or roughly 246,000 people, had a physical, emotional, or cognitive disability, making it the city with the largest disabled population among America’s 10 largest cities.

This facility will provide a unique educational experience for dental students, and eventually residents, that focuses on non-general anesthesia delivery of dental treatment including implementation of personalized oral healthcare, with tailored prevention plans and hands-on education for caregivers in the delivery of oral hygiene.

Teaching students how to comprehensively evaluate a patient with special healthcare needs in terms of not only the assessment of underlying medical conditions, disability, and/or limitations in daily activity but also the modification and delivery of dental care tailored to accommodate the patient’s specific needs will be a critical part of the experience. The ultimate goal is to build a compassionate and competent dental workforce with the skills to care for this vulnerable population in their clinical practices.

Q: What kind of response have you had from patients at the Care Center for Persons with Disabilities?

A: We are actively reaching out to communities of interest in the surrounding areas, and there has been a great deal of interest. We will be fully open for patient care on May 10. We have been seeing patients, but at a reduced volume while we get our protocols and clinic processes in place.

Unique to our program, we will have a full-time patient navigator whose primary role will be to help the patients navigate through the healthcare system and facilitate linkages between our program and community resources. We will also have a nurse practitioner who is shared with the College of Nursing who will be working with our students to help obtain any medical consultations needed prior to the delivery of dental care and helping to develop chairside health literacy materials to provide holistic healthcare to our patients.

Q: What resources do you recommend for clinicians who want to learn more about oral medicine or about oral healthcare for patients with special needs?

A: The AAOM website has resources for clinicians who are interested in learning more about oral medicine, including CE opportunities, information about training programs, and fact sheets that cover common oral conditions and their treatment.

In terms of oral healthcare for patients with special needs, we have an ongoing lecture series here at Penn that can be accessed online. We are also planning an immersive clinical program where clinicians will be able to come and spend a week in the clinic with our faculty to gain some hands-on experience.

The Special Care Dentistry Association website has an education tab with resources and learning modules. So does the American Academy of Developmental Medicine and Dentistry. And, the University of Washington School of Dentistry has a series of fact sheets for both professionals and families that are free.

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