The UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry has launched a special dental clinic, the first of its kind in an academic setting in South Texas, to assist people of all ages with intellectual, developmental, cognitive, or physical disabilities.
The Phil and Karen Hunke Special Care Clinic features spacious specially designed treatment rooms with adjustable sound and lighting, and even a multi-sensory „Zen Den“ room to reduce anxiety. It spans approximately 4,300 square feet on the first floor of the Oral Health Care and Research Center, 8210 Floyd Curl Drive. The clinic is named after philanthropists from the San Antonio region who provided seed funding for the project. Phil Hunke, DDS, is a retired pediatric dentist.
The state-of-the-art space includes seven dental treatment rooms and five rooms equipped with the option for conscious sedation, all tailored to accommodate individuals with special needs and provide services for up to 40 patients per day. The clinic will serve the community and offer training for students.
In the current model of oral health care for individuals with special needs, there are numerous obstacles. The central problem is the lack of workforce trained and willing to provide services to this population.
Jennifer Farrell, DDS, DABSCSD, Founding Director of the Clinic
In a study, only 10% of surveyed dentists reported treating individuals with special needs, and only one in four students had practical experience with these patients during their dental education.
Playing Important Roles
The clinic fulfills three important roles. The facility will not only treat patients from across South Texas, but also offer academic and clinical training to students in special dental medicine across various disciplines including dentistry and dental hygiene, medicine, physician assistant, and nursing. The clinic will serve as a referral source for community-based dentists and social service providers, not only as a source of referrals but to disseminate information and advancements in the treatment of people with special needs.
Building on the region’s most comprehensive integrated dental practice, where patients are treated by experienced dentists, renowned specialists, advanced residents, or dental students supervised by faculty from the nation’s leading dental school
Additionally, a federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration in the amount of $2 million over a five-year period will fund personnel and operating costs, as well as provider training. In addition, $2.3 million from the Texas Department of State Health Services‘ Oral Health Improvement Program (OHIP) supports the goal of expanding dental care for people with special health needs.
The spacious treatment areas allow for multiple access points based on patients’ treatment needs and offer ample space for patients and their families or caregivers while remaining private. The zen cave and a bubble wall provide sensory regulating functions.
The entrances, reception area, and hallways are also designed to be easily accessible, and the hallways feature handrails and bumpers for wheelchair users. Patients have access to a wheelchair tilt if needed, although most patients can be treated in their wheelchairs without tilt.
Comprehensive evaluations will determine the level of sedation that is best suited for a patient. Five suites are specifically equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to allow for full treatment along with conscious sedation. The clinic location within the Center for Oral Health Care and Research provides access to additional treatment rooms that allow for full sedation, if needed
„We offer a comprehensive array of preventive, routine, and comprehensive dental care for all age groups and oral health needs,“ said Micaela Gibbs, DDS, MHA, Clinical Associate Professor and Chief Dental Officer of the UT Health San Antonio School of Dentistry. „Customized care plans are created based on individual circumstances and a patient’s tolerance for treatments.“
What to Expect
The first visit typically includes a comprehensive oral examination, X-rays, cleaning, fluoride application, customized instructions for home oral hygiene and nutritional counseling, and the development of a preliminary plan for ongoing care, lasting one to two hours.
The clinic accepts Medicaid for qualified patients under 21 years and selected dental insurance. Payment plan options are available for patients who require third-party financing.
As the founding director of the clinic, Farrell brings over 30 years of experience in caring for patients with disabilities. Prior to coming here, she spent 13 years as the head of the Special Patient Care Dental Program at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, treating patients with special needs for over 28 years as part of this program.
In 2021, Farrell received the Lawrence J. Chasko Distinguished Service Award from the Special Care Dentistry Association.
University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio