UNE collaborative partnership with Maine Behavioral Healthcare helps brush off dental fears

Dental student provides care to a child

Most people view a visit with the dentist as a routine part of life that must be endured in order to maintain good oral health. But for those with developmental disabilities, a trip to the dentist can cause crippling anxiety making it challenging to provide the dental care they need.

To address this need, UNE’s College of Dental Medicine (CDM) and Maine Behavioral Healthcare’s Center of Excellence in Autism and Developmental Disorders are collaborating to provide this care in a setting that works best for patients, families, and dentists in training.

The partnership has led to the creation of a new Autism and Developmental Disorders Treatment Center in South Portland that will house a dental clinic. Opening next month, the clinic will provide dental care under the supervision of a UNE faculty dentist to the center’s clients. The dedicated space is outfitted with all of the necessary fixed equipment needed for treatment.

Beginning with the fall semester, pairs of third-year CDM dental students will spend half a day at the center with the potential to expand to a full day, depending on need, student scheduling, and faculty availability. The dental students, under faculty supervision, will provide basic oral health care onsite to include oral hygiene instruction, examinations, cleanings, and fillings as appropriate for the patient.

“The UNE College of Dental Medicine was founded with a mission and passion to serve the underserved and address healthcare access in Maine and greater Northern New England,” commented Jon Ryder, D.D.S., M.S., dean of UNE’s College of Dental Medicine. “Access to oral healthcare can be very challenging for many individuals and is often a crisis for those with autism and developmental disorders. We are excited to be able to partner with Maine Behavioral Healthcare and the Center of Excellence in Autism and Developmental Disorder. Training dental students in interprofessional teams to address complex and special needs patients will help them understand the barriers many patients face and prepare them to work effectively with other healthcare providers in the future.”

Albert Abena, D.D.S., J.D., assistant dean for Community Partnerships at UNE, was instrumental in leading the collaboration.

“This partnership will increase the level of clinical training of our dental students to provide care for children with special needs, increase the knowledge and ability of the center’s staff to impact the oral health of their patients daily, and provide much-needed care for this population,” he said.

The expert care providers at the center will provide the communication, behavioral and educational support needed to help this population become comfortable and successful in receiving dental care.

"This is an incredibly exciting collaboration where we are breaking down the barriers between dental care and behavioral health to support the unique needs of our patients and help train the next generation of dentists in providing the best care for this underserved population," said Matthew Siegel, M.D., vice president of Medical Affairs, Maine Behavioral Healthcare.

The dental clinic was made possible by generous gifts from the Banks family of Raymond, Maine and the Northeast Delta Dental Foundation.