Giving Children on Long Island Increased Access to State-of-the-Art Dental Care
Here, Dr. Maria Ryan discusses why dental health is key to overall good health, what a children’s hospital can offer, and how Stony Brook Children’s has made access to dental care a priority for the children of Long Island. Stony Brook Children’s is the only children’s hospital in Suffolk County and an area leader in advanced pediatric medicine.
Why is oral health such an important part of good health?
In many ways, oral health is a foundation and an indicator for overall health. Chances are if your teeth or gums are not healthy, you may have other health problems as well. Untreated dental disease is painful and can affect a child’s physical, emotional and social development. Children with dental disease often can’t eat or sleep properly, nor can they concentrate well in school. In addition, oral diseases can increase the risk for serious illnesses, such as respiratory disease and diabetes. In fact, periodontal disease, also known as gum disease, can have a huge impact on how well you can control diabetes because periodontal disease has been linked to insulin resistance and long-term complications of diabetes, such as kidney and heart disease.
Why offer pediatric dentistry at a children’s hospital?
We recognize that children’s needs are different and require medical and dental expertise tailored to the child. At Stony Brook Children’s, we’ve made dentistry one of the 30 pediatric specialties available to our patients. We are particularly proud that we can offer dental examinations and dental treatment before a child undergoes heart surgery, transplant surgery or chemotherapy in order to lessen the risk of complications — something that few hospitals do. We also collaborate on multidisciplinary treatment teams to address facial anomalies such as cleft palate. In 1981, the Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine created the Dental Care for the Developmentally Disabled Program to provide care to people with special needs. At the time, these children were often unable to be managed by their community dentists, putting them at risk for oral disease. Our program provides them with comprehensive oral healthcare including the provision of dental services while under sedation or in the operating room, when necessary.
How does Stony Brook reach out to the community?
We reach out in many ways. The Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine’s Dental Care Center, which last year alone had 68,000 patient visits, is the largest provider of dental services on Long Island. Our patients include many of the underserved of Suffolk County. We offer prevention, screenings, dental procedures, surgery and management of the complex problems that arise with chronic conditions or cancer therapy. Offering a high standard of care, we use state-of-the-art equipment, all-digital radiography and cone-beam computed tomography, and the latest procedures, some of which have been pioneered through our research programs. Patients are seen by dental students, residents and faculty members.
The Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine and the Dental Care Center are particularly committed to improving access by providing dental and oral care services to the children of Long Island, with 70 ongoing outreach programs to the residents of Long Island, many based in the schools, including Head Start programs. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) recently awarded the School of Dental Medicine a $500,000 grant as part of the School-Based Health Center Capital Program. We also hold events for children twice a year to provide screening, treatment, toothbrushes, toothpaste and general awareness education. One in early February is the “Give Kids a Smile Day,” held in conjunction with the American Dental Association. And because the community need is so great, we hold a second event on our own in July, which we call “Give Kids a Healthy Smile Day.”
Because patient visits have increased by 41 percent over the past six years, we have expanded our services with the help of a $3.17 million HEAL NY grant (Health Care Efficiency and Affordability Law for New Yorkers) — one of just two awards to dental schools in the state — enabling us to increase access to primary oral healthcare services on Long Island. A recently completed expansion of the Dental Care Center, will increase the number of patients served by 20 percent. In addition, a mobile dental clinic outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment and technology is bringing screening and preventive services to an additional 4,500 people, particularly children, across Long Island. Having a mobile dental clinic reduces one of the most significant barriers to care, and will help bring care to those previously unserved.
To schedule a screening appointment in the Dental Care Center or for information, call (631) 632-8989.
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