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  October 15, 2001

Dental School Launches Pilot
Project to Serve Poor Children

The School of Dental Medicine, the primary provider of care to the state's Medicaid population, has opened a new dental office for poor children in West Haven.

The new dental office, located on the campus of the University of New Haven, is one of two that will serve as a pilot project to determine ways to improve dental care to the state's under-served population of Medicaid youngsters. Faculty members from the School of Dental Medicine will staff the office, with support from private community dentists and students in the University of New Haven's dental hygiene program.

The pilot project, which is funded by the legislature to run for two years, will include another dental office in the northern part of the state that will open later this fall.

"Our goal is to look at ways to get more dental care to Medicaid children throughout the state," says Peter Robinson, dean of dental medicine. "This is a population with special needs, and the new dental offices provide services that take these special needs into account."

UConn's dental school is the primary provider of dental care to the state's Medicaid population, both adults and children. During the last fiscal year, the dental school provided nearly 30 percent of all the treatment given in the state to youngsters under the age of 18 who are eligible for Medicaid.

"Dental and oral diseases among the poor have been called a 'silent epidemic' by the Surgeon General, and access to regular care is a major issue for this under-served population," says Robinson.

Community dentists will be recruited to help staff the new offices on a rotating basis, perhaps one-half day a week. They will receive education and training from dental school faculty on current techniques for dealing with youngsters who may have behavioral problems.

The offices will also have a care coordinator to help patients and their families with transportation and child care issues.

"Too often, a poor youngster cannot get to the dentist's office because the mother doesn't have a car or because she doesn't have someone who can take care of her other children," says Robinson. "We are trying to take those issues into account."

According to the Surgeon General's report on oral health care, while 44 million Americans lack medical insurance, about 108 million lack dental insurance. Uninsured children are 2.5 times less likely to receive dental care than insured youngsters, and children from families without dental insurance are three times as likely to have dental needs compared to their insured peers.

"Eliminating some of the disparities in dental care is an important mission for our dental school," says Robinson. "By working with the state on this pilot project, we hope to develop a program that works well for Connecticut and could serve as a model for the rest of the country."

The dental school currently operates dental offices for Medicaid youngsters at five other locations around the state: Burgdorf Clinic and the Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Hartford, the New Britain Hospital for Special Care, Yale-New Haven Hospital, and Brooker Memorial Hospital in Torrington. Treatment at the dental offices is provided by UConn faculty, dental residents or fellows (dentists seeking advanced training). The sole source of funding is reimbursement from Medicaid for services rendered.

"We have worked with several communities and organizations to make treatment more accessible to the Medicaid population," says Robinson, "and, for one of the smallest dental schools in the country, we have been able to create an extremely large network of dental offices."

Kristina Goodnough