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NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities opens to expand access to care for Empire State

February 26, 2019

By David Burger

NYU Dentistry entrance

Grand opening: NYU College of Dentistry’s Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities provides comprehensive dental care for patients whose disabilities or medical conditions prevent them from receiving care in a conventional dental setting.

New York — Brooklyn resident Jay Raskin, 77, suffers from multiple sclerosis and, by his count, has been hospitalized more than 20 times in the last four years. He takes about 20 medications daily.

Several years ago, Mr. Raskin tried receiving dental care on three different occasions, but each time was ultimately turned away after the provider couldn’t transfer Mr. Raskin from his wheelchair to a dental chair.

After the last time, others told him that the New York University College of Dentistry’s Special Patient Care Program might be able to help him.

Since then, Mr. Raskin has been treated with what he calls “tremendous” care. “My prayers were answered at NYU,” he said. “They were always careful because of the meds I was on.”

In an interview with ADA News, Mr. Raskin said he is now overjoyed about the February opening of the NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities, an 8,000-square-foot center renovated at the cost of $12 million located in the NYU College of Dentistry’s Weissman Building.

“Oh boy, it’s coming at the right time,” said Mr. Raskin.

Dr. Bertolami
Dr. Bertolami

The new center provides much-needed comprehensive care for patients whose disabilities or medical conditions prevent them from receiving care in a conventional dental setting, said Dr. Charles N. Bertolami, the Herman Robert Fox Dean of the NYU College of Dentistry.

“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,” Dr. Bertolami said. “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.”

Since 1971, NYU College of Dentistry has run the successful Special Patient Care Program, an honors program for a small group of exceptional dental students to gain experience working with people with disabilities, but the center now fulfills Dr. Bertolami’s vision of a dedicated dental home in New York City for individuals with physical, cognitive and developmental disabilities.

Over time, the new center will expand its educational opportunities to all NYU dental students and residents.

New York City is the right location for this new center, said Dr. Ronald W. Kosinski, clinical director of the center and clinical associate professor at the NYU dental school. He estimated that about there are about a million people with disabilities in New York City alone, including about 100,000 who use wheelchairs. “This center is geared toward those who can’t be treated anywhere else,” he said.

Ronald Kosinski
Dr. Kosinski

“In this country, we don’t know how to say yes to them because we’re afraid of them,” Dr. Kosinski said. This center breaks that notion, he added.

Dr. Bertolami said that people with disabilities face many barriers to receiving dental care, including physically accessing dentists’ offices, which may not be able to accommodate wheelchairs or other assistive devices. As a result, patients with disabilities are sometimes referred to hospitals for dental 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, the dean said.

The center features nine patient treatment rooms, including one with a reclining wheelchair platform that allows patients to be treated in their wheelchairs instead of being transferred to a dental chair. In addition, there are two fully equipped sedation suites to provide both inhaled and intravenous sedation administered under the supervision of anesthesiologists.

“Our on-site sedation options eliminate the need for most patients to be referred to hospitals,” said Dr. Kosinski. “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 College of Dentistry.”

A multisensory room will soon offer patients an immersive environment to reduce their anxiety and help them relax, Dr. Kosinski said. The room is being developed in partnership with an interdisciplinary NYU team of health specialists, engineers and artists

Led by Dr. Kosinski — a pediatric dentist and dental anesthesia specialist — 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. Senior dental students provide basic dental care not requiring sedation.

The goal for the first year of operation is 8,000 visits, with the second year projected to receive more than 10,000 patient visits.

In planning for the facility, the NYU College of Dentistry collaborated with a number of health care and advocacy groups that provide general health care and support for people with disabilities, including the Cerebral Associations of New York State; Metro Community Health Centers; Family Health Centers at NYU Langone; New York State 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.

The center’s arrival comes at the same time as NYU College of Dentistry’s mobile dental van program —"Smiling Faces, Going Places”— introduced its new dental van, funded by the New York City Council. The van travels to the five boroughs to bring dental care and education to New York City children and seniors at no cost to patients.

The new van features two dental chairs and an open layout that allows for more flexibility than the previous van, including increased ease of access for visitors in wheelchairs.

“Our mobile care program is designed to reduce the barriers to accessing dental care by bringing care directly to those in need,” said Constance Robinson-Turner, manager of NYU Dentistry’s mobile dental care program, in a press release. “This includes children, whose parents might otherwise have to take off work to bring them to the dentist, as well as older New Yorkers who may have difficulty getting around or may have other medical issues.”

“Our dental office on wheels fills a critical need in New York City, making oral health care more accessible to underserved communities,” said Dr. Andrew Schenkel, director of community-based dental education at NYU Dentistry, in the release.

Founded in 1865, NYU Dentistry is the third oldest and the largest dental school in the U.S., educating nearly 10 percent of the nation’s dentists.