Bridging the gap

Posted by watchmen
October 21, 2020
Posted in OPINION

Over P50 million.

That’s how much New York University (NYU) will receive to train dentists and other health professionals to provide oral health care to people with disabilities and complex medical conditions. 

The NYU College of Dentistry received the nearly $2 million grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the fourth HRSA grant awarded to the College’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry since 2015.

Dr. Courtney H. Chinn, Clinical Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Pediatric Dentistry at NYU Dentistry, will integrate the training into NYU’s existing Advanced Education Program in Pediatric Dentistry and will create new training programs and curricula to educate general dentists and dental hygienists on caring for patients with disabilities.

If only we spend a tiny equivalent portion of that amount for People With Disabilities here in our country. Our Department of Health says more than 1.4 million Filipinos or 1.57 percent of the population have a disability. The CALABARZON provinces of Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Rizal, and Quezon have the highest number of PWDs while the Cordillera Administrative Region has the lowest number.

We can just imagine how many of them need special dental care because of their disabilities.

“People with disabilities and complex medical conditions face too many barriers in accessing oral health services, including finding a dentist with the skills and capabilities to manage their care,” says Dr. Chinn. “We are working to build a competent and compassionate dental workforce to care for people with these unique needs, ensuring that dentists have the skills for, and commitment to, caring for vulnerable populations.”

In the United States, special needs dentistry is not formally recognized as an accredited specialty although there are many dental programs that focus on people with disabilities, says the NYU College of Dentistry in a press statement.

NYU Dentistry, founded in 1865, is the third oldest and the largest dental school in the US, educating nearly 10 percent of America’s dentists.

It says that many general dentists in America lack the skills, experience or capacity to care for people with disabilities. Historically, given their training, pediatric dentists have been the primary dental professionals to serve people with disabilities, but there are not enough pediatric dentists and they are often unable to continue caring for these patients after they reach adulthood.

It says that some people with disabilities and medical conditions have poor oral health due to difficulties like brushing their teeth or the medications they take. Many of them are often forced to forego preventive care in a dentist’s office. Many times, they get dental attention when an emergency occurs and they have to seek care in hospital operating rooms or under sedation.

This is the reason why in 2019 NYU Dentistry opened its new Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities. The aim is to provide oral health care for people whose disabilities or medical conditions prevent them from receiving care in a conventional dental clinic.

The Center has specialized equipment, sedation suites, a multisensory room and, following its mandate under its Bridging the Gap program, provides specialized training to dentists.

The Bridging the Gap program trains pediatric dental postgraduate students to care for people with disabilities, including developing and implementing a new curriculum and enhancing their clinical experiences through rotations at the NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities and NYU’s school-based dental care program in New York City schools.

The five-year grant started on July 1 and the training programs will commence in September 2021. Each year, 16 pediatric dental postdoctoral students and up to three general dentists and/or dental hygienists are expected to participate in the program, along with many additional inter-professional students.

Bridging the Gap provides training for other health professionals as well. NYU Dentistry will create a one-year program for dentists and dental hygienists caring for children, adolescents and adults with disabilities.

We tell this story if only to illustrate the special oral health care needs of People With Disabilities, and how one university is taking it seriously to “bridge the gap”.


Dr. Joseph D. Lim is the former Associate Dean of the UE College of Dentistry, former Dean of the College of Dentistry, National University, past president and honorary fellow of the Asian Oral Implant Academy, and honorary fellow of the Japan College of Oral Implantologists. Honorary Life Member of Thai Association of Dental Implantology. For questions on dental health, e-mail or text 0917-8591515./WDJ

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