Individuals with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities now have a dedicated treatment center in New York City for oral health care—NYU College of Dentistry’s (NYU Dentistry) Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities.
The 8,000-square-foot center, located in NYU Dentistry’s Weissman Building, provides much-needed comprehensive care for patients whose disabilities or medical conditions prevent them from receiving care in a conventional dental setting.
“The NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities addresses a major public health challenge by providing comprehensive, compassionate dental care for people with a full range of disabilities who experience significant barriers to accessing care,” says Charles N. Bertolami, D.D.S., D.Med.Sc., Herman Robert Fox Dean of NYU Dentistry. “Equally important, care at the center is ongoing. By providing dental care across each patient’s lifespan, the center aims to break the vicious cycle of neglect and repeated hospitalization.”
In New York City alone, an estimated 950,000 people—in a city of 8.5 million—have some form of disability, including 99,000 who use wheelchairs. Research shows that people with disabilities have worse oral health than the general population and are less likely to have access to dental care services.
People with disabilities face many barriers to receiving oral health care, including physically accessing dentists’ offices, which may not be able to accommodate wheelchairs or other assistive devices. In addition, some dentists lack confidence in their ability to meet the needs of people with disabilities, so may not be prepared or willing to welcome these patients.
As a result, patients with disabilities are often referred to hospitals for oral health care because of the need for sedation and may wait as long as six months to get an appointment to be seen in an operating room. These visits are often one-off emergencies without follow-up or continuous preventive care, which can trigger a cycle of recurring dental problems.
“Numerous studies have shown generally poor access to vital health services for both children and adults with disabilities,” says Marco Damiani, Chief Executive Officer of AHRC New York City, one of the largest nonprofits supporting people with disabilities in New York State. “The NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities will promote greatly improved access, but it exceeds basic expectations by enabling access to a welcoming state-of-the art facility, dental treatment services from highly experienced and engaged faculty, and a service vision that underscores dignity, respect and coordination of care.”
Designed for patients with disabilities
The new center was designed to meet the unique and diverse needs of people with a range of disabilities. It was completed through a $12 million renovation by Henningson, Durham & Richardson Architecture and Engineering, P.C. (HDR). The center features nine spacious patient treatment rooms. In addition, two fully equipped sedation suites are available to provide both inhaled and intravenous sedation administered under the supervision of anesthesiologists.
“Our onsite sedation options eliminate the need for most patients to be referred to hospitals,” says Ronald Kosinski, D.M.D., Clinical Director of the Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities and Clinical Associate Professor at NYU Dentistry. “In cases where general anesthesia is required, patients can be treated by specially trained NYU Dentistry faculty at one of our hospital affiliates—NYU Langone Health or Bellevue Hospital Center—but remain patients of record at the NYU Dentistry.”
A multisensory room, located off of the waiting area, will soon offer patients an immersive environment to reduce their anxiety, help them relax, and engage their senses. The room is being developed in partnership with the NYU Ability Project, an interdisciplinary team of health specialists, engineers and artists working at the intersection of disability and technology.
Led by Dr. Kosinski—a pediatric dentist and specialist in dental anesthesia—the center is staffed by multidisciplinary faculty, a nurse practitioner, a nurse, a social worker, three patient-service representatives, a clinic manager and a patient care coordinator. Patients are cared for by NYU Dentistry faculty with particular interest and expertise in treating people with disabilities. Senior dental students provide basic dental care not requiring sedation.
In planning for the facility, NYU Dentistry collaborated with a number of health care and advocacy groups that provide general health care and support for people with disabilities, including Cerebral Associations of New York State, Metro Community Health Centers, Family Health Centers at NYU Langone, NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, NYU Langone Health, and the Viscardi Center. In addition, focus groups of people with disabilities were conducted in cooperation with the NYU Ability Project, a collaboration of the Tandon School of Engineering; the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development; and the Tisch School of the Arts.
Training the next generation of dentists specializing in treating people with disabilities
The center builds upon NYU’s long history of educating dental students to care for patients with special needs. NYU Dentistry was one of 11 schools funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the 1970s to train dental students in caring for people with disabilities.
Since 1971, NYU Dentistry has run a successful Special Patient Care Program, an honors program for a small group of exceptional dental students to gain experience working with people with disabilities. Over time, the new center will expand these educational opportunities to all NYU dental students and residents, thereby expanding patient care delivery.
“The Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities not only offers much-needed clinical services to patients, but also a unique training opportunity for our students. Our goal is to create the next generation of dentists who will practice with competence, confidence, and compassion in providing quality dental care for people with disabilities,” says Dr. Bertolami.