UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry opens dental clinic for special-needs children, adults


UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry has opened a special care dental clinic, the first of its kind in an academic setting in South Texas, that will serve people of all ages with intellectual, developmental, cognitive or physical disabilities Serve.

The Phil and Karen Hunke Special Care Clinic is located on the first floor of the school center and occupies approximately 4,300 square feet, with spacious, specially designed treatment rooms with adjustable sound and lighting, and even a “Zen Den” multi-sensory room. Helps reduce anxiety. The clinic is named for San Antonio-area philanthropists who provided seed funding for the program. Phil Hunke, DDS, is a retired pediatric dentist.

This state-of-the-art space includes 7 dental treatment rooms and 5 rooms equipped with conscious sedation capabilities, all designed to accommodate patients with special needs, serving up to 40 patients per day. The clinic will serve the community and provide training for students.

Clinic Director Jennifer Farrell, DDS, has more than 30 years of experience caring for patients with disabilities.

“There are many barriers to the current model of providing oral health care to individuals with special needs,” said Jennifer Farrell, DDS, DABSCSD, the clinic’s first director. “At the heart of the problem is the lack of a workforce that is trained and willing to serve this population.”

In one study, only 10% of dentists surveyed reported having treated people with special needs, and only a quarter of students had practical experience with these patients while in dental school.

“Dental education institutions are an important part of building a base of clinicians to serve this severely underserved population,” said Peter M. Loomer, DDS, PhD, MBA, dean of the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.

Play an important role

The clinic serves three important functions. In addition to hosting patients from across South Texas, the facility will provide academic and clinical training for special care dental students in multiple disciplines, including dentistry and dental hygiene, medical, physician assistant and nursing. The clinic will serve as a resource for community dentists and social service providers, not only as a referral source but also to disseminate information and treatment advancements for individuals with special needs.

The clinic builds on the region's most comprehensive comprehensive dental practice, where patients can receive care from experienced dentists, renowned specialists, advanced graduate students or dental students supervised by faculty from the state's top dental schools.

In addition to generous support from the namesake donor, the federal Health Resources and Services Administration has awarded $2 million over five years to fund staffing and operating costs and provider education. Additionally, the Texas Department of State Health Services Oral Health Improvement Program (OHIP) has provided $2.3 million to support the goal of expanding oral care for people with special health care needs.

The spacious treatment area allows for multiple access points based on patient management needs and provides ample space for patients and their families or caregivers while maintaining privacy. Zen Den and bubble walls provide sensory modulation.

Entrances, reception areas and corridors are also designed for easy access, with railings and wheelchair safety bars in corridors. The patient can tilt the wheelchair if needed, but most patients can be treated in a wheelchair without tilting.

A comprehensive examination will determine the level of sedation most suitable for the patient, and five specially designed suites are equipped with the latest equipment to provide comprehensive treatment and conscious sedation. The clinic is located within the Center for Oral Health Care and Research, allowing access to additional treatment space and full sedation when necessary.

“We provide a full range of preventive, routine and comprehensive dental care for all ages and dental needs,” said Micaela Gibbs, DDS, MHA, clinical associate professor and chief dental officer at UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry. “Customized care plans are created based on the patient’s unique situation and tolerance of treatment.”

what happens

The first visit – which typically includes a comprehensive oral evaluation, x-rays, cleanings, fluoride, customized instructions for home oral hygiene care and nutritional guidance, and the development of a tentative plan for ongoing care – takes one to two hours.

The clinic accepts Medicaid and select dental insurance for qualified patients under 21 years of age. Third-party financing options are available for patients who require a payment plan.

As the clinic's founding director, Farrell has more than 30 years of experience providing care to patients with disabilities. Prior to joining here, she served for 13 years as the Director of the Special Patient Care Dental Program at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, where she treated patients with special needs for more than 28 years.

In 2021, Farrell received the Lawrence J. Chasko Distinguished Service Award from the Society of Special Care Dentistry.

For more information or to make an appointment, please visit UTDentistry.org/SpecialCare Or call 210-56-SERVE (210-567-3783).



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