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NYU Dental Students Provide Care for Underserved People in New York City

September 10, 2014

Almost every dental school in the U.S. provides some degree of general and specialty care for underserved populations.

Not only do these programs provide immediate care for people suffering from untreated dental disease, they also instill in dental students and residents a sense of personal gratification derived from helping those most in need. 

And while a majority of dental students will choose private practice, their greater understanding of public health and the human face of underserved populations can instill in them the importance of devoting some of their practice hours to caring for those in need. 

Developing such understanding is a key objective at New York University College of Dentistry (NYUCD), which represents a crucial source of primary oral health care for the working poor, uninsured, Medicaid, and Medicaid Managed Care populations in New York City.

At its clinical facility on Manhattan’s East Side, supervising faculty, dental students, dental hygienists, and dental assistants provide care for approximately 300,000 patient visits annually, according to Dr. Cosmo DeSteno, NYUCD’s associate dean for clinical affairs. 

Between September 2013 and June 2014, NYUCD registered more than 26,000 new patients.

“Patient care is a core component of NYUCD’s mission,” said Dr. DeSteno. “The provision of quality, affordable, comprehensive dental care makes NYUCD a health care safety net for New Yorkers of all ages and with all dental needs.” 

People mostly visit the dental school because they do not have a dentist, he noted. 

“We take care of their emergency needs and then we refer them to the appropriate treatment area within NYUCD,” said Dr. DeSteno. 

The patient population is much different on weekends. Many are transient, visiting from another city, or their dentist’s office is closed. 

For patients needing care on weekends, NYUCD offers a dedicated urgent care facility. During that facility’s after hours, patients are referred to nearby Bellevue Hospital Center, where NYU oral and maxillofacial surgery residents treat patients onsite. 

The American Dental Association’s Health Policy Institute estimates that there will be a significant increase in demand for dental care among Medicaid-eligible adults as the program is expected to expand under the Affordable Care Act. In New York, an estimated 811,000 additional adults likely will be eligible for dental Medicaid benefits.     

“I think that they might be in a socioeconomic group that is not aware of the importance of oral health, so they don’t go to a dentist until it becomes painful or unless it’s an aesthetic problem,” said Dr. DeSteno. “If it starts affecting their looks or their comfort, they’ll go to the dentist right away. Hopefully, expanded access to dental care for Medicaid populations will help to change perceptions of need.”