UW School of Dentistry

UW receives $2.25 million federal grant to improve dental care for children with special health care needs

The University of Washington’s Department of Pediatric Dentistry has been awarded a $2.25 million federal grant for an ambitious training program to significantly broaden access to dental care for Washington children with special health care needs.

Dr. Travis Nelson treats a young patient in his autism clinic in 2013.
Dr. Travis Nelson treats a young patient in his autism clinic in 2013.

Dr. Travis Nelson, acting chair of the School of Dentistry department, will lead the five-year Health Resources and Services Administration grant, which will fund the creation of an Interdisciplinary Special Needs Access Network (I-SPAN). Key elements of the program include:

  • Enhanced training for pediatric dental residents in caring for children with special health-care needs and other underserved populations.
  • Development of a postgraduate interdisciplinary training center drawing on the expertise of dental and medical providers at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the UW’s Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) clinic. Other partners include the School of Dentistry’s DECOD special-needs dental clinic and training program, residents in the state’s Advanced Education General Dentistry program, and other UW dental specialty programs.
  • Use of telehealth technology to allow remote dental screenings and wider access to specialized care for children in rural and underserved areas.

Faculty and residents involved in I-SPAN will also provide training in the care of the targeted children to dentists in the state’s Access to Baby and Child Dentistry (ABCD) network. ABCD was launched in the mid-1990s to improve low-income children’s access to dental care. In the past 20 years the program has produced dramatic oral health improvements for Washington children.

“The prevalence of children with developmental and/or intellectual disability, ADHD, and autism has increased significantly over the last decade,” Dr. Nelson wrote in his grant proposal. “Today, roughly one in six children has special health care needs. Dental care for children in poverty, especially in rural areas, is routinely reported as the greatest unmet health care need in this population, with an estimated 10 to 20 percent of children with special needs unable to obtain this care.”

Dr. Nelson indicated that the problem is aggravated by the lower numbers of dentists, especially specialists, in rural areas, and the fact that rural residents are less likely to have dental insurance. He noted that children with special health-care needs are also more likely to have problems such as teeth-grinding, overgrown gum tissue, developmental tooth defects, and jaw disorders.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have received this funding,” he said. “It will support training to better equip dental providers to care for these incredibly deserving patients. We will see immediate local effects in enhanced training for UW residents. As the network develops, access to care will improve throughout our state as existing providers receive training, through teledentistry, and when residents graduate and take the skills into practice.”

Planning and organization is expected to take up the first year of the grant, with implementation to follow in years two through five.

The Department of Pediatric Dentistry, through its Center for Pediatric Dentistry clinic in Seattle’s Sand Point neighborhood, has already won recognition for its extensive care for children with special needs. This includes a clinic for children with autism, which Dr. Nelson established in 2012 and has since had exceptional success in providing dental care to these children.

UW hosts global oral health symposium

The Timothy A. DeRouen Center for Global Oral Health holds its first symposium in global oral health today on the University of Washington campus, with the support of a grant from the National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research.

The symposium is focusing on global inequalities in the distribution of and access to care for oral diseases, which represent unresolved societal burdens. Problems to be addressed in the symposium include:

  • Fundamental gaps in knowledge and understanding of the multifactorial factors related to oral health.
  • Lack of priorities developed with the active participation of the communities in need.
  • Limited research in implementation and integration sciences of oral health.

The symposium, titled “Interprofessional Health Care: Adding Oral Health to Interdisciplinary Global Health Projects Worldwide,” aims to provide the appropriate setting for global oral health research beyond focusing solely on oral health. The symposium’s objectives are to:

  • Propose strategies to integrate oral and craniofacial research in interdisciplinary collaborations by showcasing past and current worldwide research projects.
  • Generate new opportunities for collaboration in global oral health by targeting participation of colleagues beyond dentistry.
  • Enhance the DeRouen Center’s existing collaborations by creating a five-year plan for its current lines of research in Thailand, Kenya, Peru, and Seattle.
  • Create a pipeline of future leaders in global oral health research by exposing current dental pre-, post-doc students and fellows to global health, and exposing current general pre-, post-doc students and fellows to oral and craniofacial research.