Tufts celebrates 40 years of providing oral health care to patients with special needs

Network of clinics in Massachusetts provides oral health care to more than 7,000 patients with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities

BOSTON (November 18, 2016)—At an awards luncheon today, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Tufts Dental Facilities, a network of clinics across the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that provides comprehensive oral health care services for individuals with intellectual, developmental and/or physical disabilities.

“It is the only such network of clinics in the country dedicated to special needs dentistry,” said Huw F. Thomas, B.D.S., M.S., Ph.D., dean of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. “The clinics are an invaluable service to patients and their caregivers, providing high-quality but cost-effective care for at-risk populations. In many cases, we provide care that could not be received anywhere else.”

“Since the beginning of its partnership with the Commonwealth in 1976, Tufts dental clinics have helped thousands of individuals with intellectual disabilities receive quality dental services. This has assured that some of the most vulnerable members of the Commonwealth can remain healthy, active and integrated in the community,” said Elin M. Howe, commissioner of the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) for the Commonwealth. “DDS is pleased to join in celebrating the accomplishments of the Tufts dental clinics and the Department looks forward to continued collaboration as we work together to serve individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”

Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities often face challenges maintaining daily oral health regimens and obtaining high-quality care. They are at an increased risk of oral health problems that can develop into serious medical problems.


Debra Valley, George Kariatos, Elizabeth Page (patient), Dr. Karen Chang, Lori Lonchiadis and Donna Bernard (Matthew Modoono for Tufts University)Debra Valley, George Kariatos, Elizabeth Page (patient), Dr. Karen Chang, Lori Lonchiadis and Donna Bernard (Matthew Modoono for Tufts University)

Tufts Dental Facilities provide preventive, restorative, periodontal, endodontic and prosthodontic care to children and adults in seven locations across Massachusetts. Patients who require advanced behavioral or anxiety techniques such as sedation or general anesthesia for treatment are supported. In the last year, the clinics provided care to 7,700 patients in more than 26,000 visits.

In addition to providing treatment, the clinics serve to improve access to care for individuals with special needs by educating dental students and hygienists. In a program unique to Tufts, each dental student spends one week at a clinic learning the basics of providing care to populations with special needs. A smaller group of postdoctoral residents spend a significant portion of their time working with patients with special needs, enabling them to meet community needs when they become practicing dentists.

“A patient on the autism spectrum might need to be familiar with a hygienist or dentist before receiving care and each appointment must take into account the individual needs of that patient. Some require caregiver support, or other accommodations. A patient in a wheelchair might require frequent shifts in position to prevent discomfort,” said Mark E. Nehring, M.Ed., D.M.D., M.P.H., Delta Dental of Massachusetts Professor in Public Health and Community Service and chair of the department of public health and community service at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine.

“At Tufts, we feel strongly that patients should have access to facilities that are suited to their needs, and dentists and hygienists who have the expertise and experience necessary to provide the highest quality care,” he continued.

At today’s ceremony, awards will be given to Massachusetts Representatives John Scibak and Denise Garlick and State Senators Harriette Chandler and Joan Lovely for their support and championship of persons with disabilities, and to long-time dentists and staff, some of whom have been with the clinics since their inception in 1976.


Dr. Karen Chang, Lori Lonchiadis and Elizabeth Page (Matthew Modoono for Tufts University)Dr. Karen Chang, Lori Lonchiadis and Elizabeth Page (Matthew Modoono for Tufts University)

The Tufts Dental Facilities network has been recognized by the Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors as a national model, and the clinics have been the source for two landmark studies on oral health care access and support for special needs patients and their caregivers. The first large scale study of its kind, using records from almost 5,000 patients, concluded that access to specialized dental care alone is not sufficient to meet the substantial oral health needs of persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The second study, investigating factors influencing at-home oral care provided by caregivers to adults with developmental disabilities, suggested that, in addition to addressing access to care, policy initiatives must improve support for caregivers.

The clinics are located in Hathorne, Canton, Taunton, Groton, West Springfield, Worcester and Wrentham. Patients with special needs are also seen at the School’s clinics in Boston’s Chinatown. Six of the clinics operate through a contractual partnership between Tufts University School of Dental Medicine and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Departments of Developmental Services and Public Health. The clinics were originally established as a result of lawsuits filed to improve clinical care for individuals with special needs.

About Tufts University School of Dental Medicine

Founded in 1868, Tufts University School of Dental Medicine (TUSDM) is committed to leadership in education, patient care, research, and community service. Students obtain an interdisciplinary education, integrated with medicine, with access to training in dental specialties. Clinics managed at TUSDM provide quality comprehensive care to more than 18,000 diverse individuals annually, including those with special needs. Nationally and internationally, the School promotes health and educational programs and researches new procedures, materials and technologies to improve oral health.


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