BRYAN, TX — Texas A&M University College of Dentistry is expanding its footprint in special-needs dentistry, filling in the gap, that patients with intellectual disabilities unfortunately endure, when it comes to their dental care.
“Most kids that have special needs are seen by pediatric dentists, traditionally,” says Dr. Dan Burch, a clinical assistant professor in Pediatric Dentistry at Texas A&M University College of Dentistry.
“The issue is, as they age out of most pediatric offices, they kind of run into the problem of finding somewhere to go.” Dr. Burch added.
With a special needs son, Rosa Godinez of Bryan, says, navigating through parenthood is a unique and challenging journey, and things like taking her five-year-old son, Isaiah Deleon, to the dentist, hasn’t always been at the top of her mind.
“Going to the dentist, I think I didn’t take him until he was like two, or after two, honestly, because that wasn’t something that I was thinking about at that time,” says Godinez.
After being approached by another special needs parent, Dr. Burch began to research all of the 'gaps' within the dental health care system for special needs patients.
“It just kind of blew my mind that almost 40% of our patients that are about to age out, that are totally fine coming into the clinic, and have preventative services done, or simple fillings done, still have an issue just because they are presenting as special needs patients,” say Dr. Burch.
Isaiah suffers from damage to his cranial nerve that controls his vision, leaving him unable to open his eyes all of the way, walk, and control his left hand. Godinez says, she often thinks about what routine visits, such as the dentist, may look like as Isaiah gets older.
“It would be good to have something like that for him to be able to access, and meet the needs that he needs at that time,” says Godinez.
With the five-year $3.3 million Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) grant, the special needs program is aiming to train dentists to be able to serve those with special needs, so parents, such as Godinez, no longer have to worry about finding a dentist to care for their child.
“That’s kind of the gap that we are trying to bridge, or that we want to bridge. We know this has been a gap for decades and decades,” says Burch.
The program alone will help 300 thousand patients with intellectual disabilities in the Dallas area, alone, struggling to find dental treatment once they age out of pediatric dental care starting at the age of 12.
Burch is also working with the Texas A&M Foundation to find donors to help fund and equip, dedicated space, for the new special-needs program.