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Predoctoral programs now required to educate students on managing patients with disabilities

October 16, 2019

By Jennifer Garvin

 Commission on Dental Accreditation logo

Beginning in 2020, the Commission on Dental Accreditation will require all U.S. predoctoral dental education programs to educate students on managing patients with intellectual and physical disabilities.

The new standard has been in the works since February 2018 when CODA discussed the National Council on Disability’s issue brief, “Neglect for Too Long: Dental Care for People with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.” In it, the National Council on Disability urged the commission to modify dental school accreditation requirements to include “more robust training” in the care of intellectually and developmentally disabled patients as opposed to “simply requiring that dental students be competent in assessing the treatment needs of patients with special needs.”

The issue brief also called for the Association to review the ADA Principles of Ethics and Code of Professional Responsibility and make certain modifications to better reflect the rights of people with disabilities. The Council on Ethics, Bylaws and Judicial Affairs agreed, proposing a resolution which the ADA House of Delegates adopted as 50H-2018. 

The ADA Code now explicitly prohibits dental care providers from denying care to patients because of their disability and also specifies that patients with disabilities in need of another dentist's skills, knowledge, equipment or expertise should not be turned away and should instead be referred to dentists able to provide the necessary care.

During its winter 2018 meeting, CODA directed its 14 education review committees to look at the National Council on Disability’s requests and consider updating its guidelines. In summer 2018, CODA’s Predoctoral Dental Education Review Committee reviewed correspondence from the Special Care Dentistry Association and Alliance for Disability Health Care Education and concluded that the Accreditation Standards for Dental Education Programs could be enhanced in relation to the education of students/residents to provide care for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The Predoctoral Dental Education Review Committee concluded that “dental education programs should ensure graduates are competent to assess and manage the treatment of patients with special needs,” according to CODA’s Summer 2019 Predoctoral Dental Education Review Committee Report.

The review committee also noted that managing patients with special needs “could include treatment of the patient or management of the care through referral for services, as appropriate” and noted that “‘managing’ treatment is the most appropriate approach since some treatment may be beyond the capabilities of students in predoctoral dental education programs.”

The National Council on Disability has also asked Congress to authorize additional grants to public and nonprofit dental care providers to expand resources and bolster loan repayment programs for dentists interested in providing care and called for state policymakers to expand Medicaid dental benefits.

On Aug. 2, 2019, the commission considered the recommendations of its review committee and adopted the proposed revisions to the Accreditation Standards for Dental Education Programs, with implementation set for July 1, 2020.