UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry opens special-care dental clinic in South Texas

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

Spacious, specially designed treatment rooms with adjustable sound and lighting and even a “Zen Den” multi-sensory room to help reduce anxiety Phil and Karen Hanke Special Care Clinic The school’s Center for Oral Health Care and Research occupies approximately 4,300 square feet on the first floor at 8210 Floyd Curl Drive. The clinic is named for the San Antonio-area philanthropist who provided the seed money for the project. Phil Hunke, DDS, is a retired pediatric dentist.

The state-of-the-art facility includes seven dental treatment rooms and five rooms equipped with the ability to provide conscious sedation, all accommodating individuals with special needs and serving up to 40 patients per day. The clinic will serve the community and provide training for students.

Numerous barriers exist in the current oral health care delivery model for individuals with special needs. Lack of trained and willing manpower in the provision of services to this population is at the heart of the problem.”


Jennifer Farrell, DDS, DABSCSD, is the clinic’s inaugural director

In one survey, only 10% of dentists responding to a survey were treating individuals with special needs, and only one in four students had experience with those patients while in dental school.

“Dental education institutions are critical links in building a clinical foundation that will serve this significantly underserved population,” said Peter M. Lummer, DDS, PhD, MBA, dean of the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry.

serving important roles

Clinics play three important roles. In addition to seeing patients from all over South Texas, the facility will provide students with academic and clinical training in special-care dentistry in a variety of disciplines, including dental 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 for information dissemination and advancement in the treatment of individuals with special needs.

The clinic is based on the region’s most comprehensive integrated dental practice, where patients receive care from experienced dentists, renowned specialists, advanced graduate residents or dental students supervised by faculty from the state’s leading dental schools.

In addition to generous support provided by named donors, a $2 million federal Health Resources and Services Administration grant over five years is funding staff and operating costs and provider education. In addition, $2.3 million from the Texas Department of State Health Services’ Oral Health Improvement Program (OHIP) is supporting the goal of expanding oral care for those with special health care needs.

Spacious treatment areas allow multiple access points based on patient management needs and with ample room for patients and their families or caregivers during private stays. Zen dens and a bubble wall offer sensory-regulating features.

Entrances, reception areas and corridors are also designed to allow easy access, and hallways have railings and wheelchair bumpers. Patients will have access to a wheelchair tilt if needed, although most patients will be able to receive treatment in their wheelchair without tilting.

Comprehensive examinations will determine which level of sedation is most appropriate for which patient, with five suites specially designed with state-of-the-art equipment to provide complete treatment with conscious sedation. The clinic’s location within the Center for Oral Health Care and Research allows access to additional treatment spaces that allow for full sedation when needed.

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

what do you expect

The first visit will usually include a comprehensive oral evaluation, X-rays, cleaning, fluoride application, home oral hygiene care and nutritional guidelines, and appropriate instructions to develop a tentative plan for ongoing care – and will take one to two hours.

The clinic accepts Medicaid for eligible patients under the age of 21 and selects dental insurance. Third-party financing options are available for patients requiring a payment plan.

As the clinic’s founding director, Farrell brings more than 30 years of experience caring for patients with disabilities. Prior to joining here, he was director of the Special Patient Care Dental Program at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago for 13 years and treated special needs patients through that program for more than 28 years.

In 2021, Lawrence J. Farrell from the Special Care Dentistry Association. Chasco received the Distinguished Service Award.



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