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Action for Dental Health

North Carolina Dental Program Targets Special Needs Patients

June 5, 2015

North Carolina dentists have long been leaders in dentistry for those with special needs, providing services to some of the state’s most vulnerable people since 2000.

Through the non-profit Access Dental Care, members of the North Carolina Dental Society (NCDS) provide onsite, comprehensive dental services to people in special care facilities, nursing homes, group-home day centers and retirement communities by using portable equipment that is hauled in a truck, according to Dr. Bill Milner, who is the non-profit’s president.

From 2000 through December 2014, dentists served patients during nearly 85,000 appointments in more than 60 facilities throughout North Carolina, he said. Services include X-rays, cleanings, extractions, fillings, dentures, bridges, oral cancer examinations and gum disease treatment.

“The idea behind this really started back in the mid-1980s, when I went to the [state] dental society, and we collectively recognized the need for special care dentistry in our state,” said Dr. Milner. “We knew that we had to address this issue because far too many of these patients simply weren’t receiving the quality of care that they deserved.”

The NCDS Special Care Committee, created in 1985, initially began as a 27-member support network to advocate and provide care for that particular patient population, he said.

“We had a small collection of folks who were not only very knowledgeable about the issue, but who were also very interested in the grassroots aspect of getting a program started,” he said.

In 1997, Dr. Ford Grant and the NCDS Special Care Committee started Carolinas Mobile Dentistry in Charlotte. Access Dental Care followed in 2000. Both programs were modeled after Minnesota’s non-profit Apple Tree Dental. Through the years, North Carolina foundations have recognized the need for this outreach effort by funding $1.5 million in capital expenses and start-up costs.

Dentists and their teams transport portable equipment in a customized truck to a different facility each day, said Dr. Milner. They unload the equipment and set up the dental office within the facility.

Before patients are treated, their legal guardians or family members approve the dentist’s treatment plan. In most cases, patients are brought to the makeshift dental office. Dentists treat an average of 18 to 20 patients per day.

“We’re really very pleased with this program because it provides such an invaluable service,” said Dr. Milner. “There really aren’t many dental society-centered programs like this that have had this degree of success.”