UW School of Dentistry

Dr. Kimberly Espinoza is new DECOD director

Dr. Kimberly M. Espinoza, formerly a member of the University of New Mexico dental faculty and director of one of that state’s primary special-needs dental clinics, began work on July 1 as the new director of the School of Dentistry’s DECOD special-needs clinical program.

EspinozaDr. Espinoza had been an associate professor in the Department of Dental Medicine at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. For more than seven years she also directed the university’s Carrie Tingley Hospital Dental Clinic, one of New Mexico’s only two dental clinics for people with developmental disabilities.

“We’re delighted to welcome Dr. Espinoza to the UW and DECOD,” Dean Berg said. “This is a very meaningful appointment for a number of reasons. For four decades, DECOD has been a critical resource for Washington citizens with special needs, serving thousands of patients both on campus and during on-site visits to group homes and other facilities.

“DECOD also embodies one of our school’s core values: our continuing responsibility to care for patients who are vulnerable or at heightened risk for dental disease and its consequences.”

The Dental Education in Care of Persons with Disabilities program, which began in the 1970s and records 3,500 to 4,500 patient visits a year, treats persons with severe developmental or acquired disabilities. These include people with autism, retardation, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis and psychiatric disorders. In many cases, these patients – most of whom are financially disadvantaged and receive public assistance – have few if any other options for dental treatment in a community setting. The program also has a geriatric component for elderly patients with disabilities and those who are in independent living programs.

While DECOD has professional care providers, the program also involves dental students in patients’ treatment. Dr. Espinoza’s appointment coincides with a shift in DECOD’s focus, Dean Berg said.

“In the past, DECOD has not just provided care, but has also been an important training ground for our pre-doctoral students in treating people with special needs,” he said. “We believe this has helped us produce dentists who are more sensitive to these patients’ needs, and are better equipped and more likely to treat such patients after graduation.”

Now, however, the program will expand to embrace post-doctoral training as well, Dean Berg said.

“We plan to integrate DECOD into the training of our graduate residency students, in particular those in our Advanced General Dentistry residency program,” he said. “This is a natural fit, especially since the AGD program includes training in the treatment of medically complex patients. I believe this will not only enhance our own training, but will also let us expand DECOD’s capacity for treatment.”

Dr. Espinoza had taught in the UNM Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency program, where she served as a research mentor and trained dental students, faculty members, dental hygienists and dental assistants in treating patients with developmental disabilities. She has also worked with Special Care Advocates in Dentistry to update self-study training modules, and she is co-chair of the Special Care Dentistry Association’s Council on Dentistry for People with Disabilities. She also served as the special-care dentist for the UNM’s Cleft and Craniofacial Team.

Dr. Espinoza received her bachelor’s degree from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., in 2000, her DDS from the University of Southern California in 2004, her Advanced Education in General Dentistry certificate from UNM in 2006 and a master’s degree in public health from UNM in 2011.